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Jedd Fisch: Arizona’s roster to have ‘pretty substantial’ turnover ahead of 2023 season

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Arizona had 18 players participate in pregame Senior Day activities ahead of the Territorial Cup win over ASU. Fourteen of those Wildcats still have eligibility remaining, including several starters.

Until those players decide what to do, whether it be stay with the program or pursue other opportunities, Arizona is in a bit of a holding pattern when it comes to roster management. But coach Jedd Fisch did say Monday he expects “pretty substantial” turnover, possibly close to the amount of change that saw roughly 50 new players on the 2022 roster.

“I don’t know if it’ll be that high, but I’m going to say that we’ll probably have a high number,” Fisch said during his season-ending press conference. “And then I think after that it will kind of mellow out. But I would guess that this year will be a significant turnover one more time. And then I think we should be good to go from that point.”

Taking out the six players who are out of eligibility, Arizona’s current scholarship count is at 75. The max is 85, but the Wildcats have at least 20 players committed in the 2023 recruiting class and Fisch expects “95 percent” of that class to sign during the Early Signing Period that begins Dec. 21.

That means the UA figures to see at least 10 players—likely a lot more—with eligibility leave the program, or at least come off the roster. Fisch said quarterback Gunner Cruz, who started three games in 2021 but didn’t play this fall, is “probably going to move on to other things” that could include being a graduate assistant.

Running back Drake Anderson, who appeared in just one game this season after rushing for a team-high 385 yards in 2021, announced his transfer on Monday. He was among those who walked before the Territorial Cup.

Arizona will also likely add some players via the NCAA transfer portal, where it got 2022 standouts like quarterback Jayden de Laura, receiver Jacob Cowing and defensive end Hunter Echols. Fisch said he prefers to focus on building the roster through high school recruiting, but if the “opportunity presents itself” he’ll pursue portal entrants.

Currently, only grad transfers are officially in the portal. The new portal “window” for all other players begins Dec. 5 and runs for 60 days.

As for what Arizona’s positions of need are, Fisch said a lot depends on which of those veterans who walked on Senior Day stay or go. Among those are running back Michael Wiley, offensive tackle Jordan Morgan, defensive tackle Kyon Barrs, cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace, safety Jaxen Turner and punter Kyle Ostendorp.

“Does a Jordan Morgan return or not return?,” Fisch said. “If Jordan Morgan returns is left tackle no longer a position of need? All those positions become either a position of need or a position that’s safe and secure.”

Defensive end and linebacker are different stories. Echols and Jalen Harris are gone at the edge, as is middle linebacker Jerry Roberts, taking with them 36 starts, 183 tackles (18.5 for loss) and eight sacks. Arizona also needs a safety to replace Christian Young.

“Those positions are always ones that we’ll look at, but I really like our young guys,” Fisch said. “I like our depth. Our defense got a lot better throughout the year, the more we played more players. So we’re gonna look at all of it, though, and see where we can improve. And in my opinion, we’re gonna look everywhere to improve everywhere.”

While players can start entering the portal in a week, those considering entering the NFL Draft have until Jan. 16 to officially declare. Fisch said none of Arizona’s fourth-year players, which includes Cowing, have made decisions on that yet, while those who have become draft-eligible by finishing a third year (de Laura, for instance) is looking to turn pro.

“If you’re a fourth-year player that is making the decision at this point in time, we’re still trying to collect information for them,” Fisch said. :And we’ll start those meetings here in the next few days.”

Morgan was the most likely to declare for the draft, as he was projected to be Arizona’s first offensive linemen picked since Eben Britton in 2009, but his season-ending knee injury suffered against UCLA on Nov. 12 could force him to return for another season.