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Projecting Arizona football’s 2022 depth chart following spring practice

arizona-wildcats-football-depth-chart-projections-2022-jedd-fisch-injuries-transfers-freshmen Arizona Athletics

Spring practice is over, and now comes a period of more than three months where it will truly feel like the offseason. The next time Arizona’s players and coaches are all on the field together will be in late July or early August, whenever preseason camp begins ahead of the Sept. 3 opener at San Diego State.

The Wildcats’ roster could look a little different when that time comes, as some current players could decide to enter the NCAA transfer portal while there are 20 or so incoming freshmen (including walk-ons) who are expected to join the program in June or July. Arizona has available scholarships, too, so more additions could be made, either via the high school or junior college ranks or the portal.

But based on what was seen during spring, as well as who is expected to join the program during the summer, here is our best guess at what the UA’s depth chart will be this fall:

(x-expected to join team in summer)

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Starter: Jayden de Laura (Soph.)

Backup: Jordan McCloud (R-Jr.)

Will also play: Noah Fifita (Fr.)

Coach Jedd Fisch has said he doesn’t want to repeat history and have his quarterback competition go all the way up until the season opener, like it did a year ago. Yet after the Spring Game he wasn’t ready to officially declare de Laura to be the starter despite the Washington State transfer handling almost all the first-team reps.

The job is de Laura’s as long as he doesn’t get injured, while the backup gig is a little more undetermined. It would make more sense to have an experienced No. 2, and McCloud has started for two different FBS teams, though Fifita’s performance in spring will make it hard not to let him have a chance to play if circumstances call for a third QB in action this season.

The odd guys out are Gunner Cruz and Will Plummer, who respectively were the 2021 season-opening starter and the guy who played the most a year ago. Both figure to be candidates to transfer, though Cruz would likely have to sit out a season since he’s already used his one-time waiver, while Plumer is out several months after having surgery on his throwing shoulder on Friday.

Arizona has had a quarterback enter the transfer portal since the spring ended, with redshirt freshman walk-on Brayden Zermeno jumping in there Monday. The Wildcats are adding a walk-on passer this summer in Cole Tannenbaum, who played at Oaks Christian HS in California.

Running back

Starter: Michael Wiley (Jr.)

Backup: Jonah Coleman (Fr.)

Will also play: Drake Anderson (R-Jr.), Jalen John (Soph.), x-Rayshon Luke (Fr.), Stevie Rocker Jr. (Soph.)

Arizona has a crowded backfield, with six viable options, but only so many offensive snaps and chances to touch the ball. What puts Wiley ahead of the pack is his pass-catching ability.

As far as a pure runner, though, Coleman has the highest upside of the backs that were involved in spring. He looked great when on the field and is almost guaranteed to lose his redshirt.

Highly touted freshman Luke lived up to his ‘Speedy’ nickname over the weekend when was part of a California state-record 4x200 relay team. He’ll get a chance to be part of the mix as well.

Wide receiver

Starters: Jacob Cowing (Jr.), Tetairoa McMillan (Fr.), Dorian Singer (Soph.)

Backups: Kevin Green Jr. (Fr.), Anthony Simpson (Soph.), Ma’jon Wright (RS-Fr.)

Will also play: Jalen Johnson (Jr.), AJ Jones (Fr.)

Like at running back, Arizona has no shortage of options at receiver, but it will be a lot easier to get all of them touches. UTEP transfer Cowing and 4-star prospect McMillan have both been as good as advertised, and will both be go-to options, while Singer just keeps getting better since making his debut during the second half of last season.

Green was a pleasant surprise in the spring, despite being the lowest-rated of Arizona’s receiver signees, and will find himself a role. And Wright, after being away from the program last year, is primed to build off the 2020 numbers he put up.

Not listed above is Jamarye Joiner, whose future is in serious doubt after missing the spring with a third surgery on his left foot.

Tight end

Starters: Alex Lines (Soph.), Keyan Burnett (Fr.)

Backups: Tanner McLachlan (RS-Soph.), Roberto Miranda (RS-Fr.)

Will also play: Issaiah Johnson (RS-Soph.)

Arizona may start a lot of games with two tight ends—it did so at least four times in 2021—but when it only uses one the type of play will dictate which guy will be on the field. Lines is the more well-rounded TE, particularly with pass- and run-blocking, while Burnett is the more pure receiver and is more likely to be spread out than covering up a tackle.

McClachlan, a Southern Utah transfer who was limited in the spring while coming back from a torn ACL, has potential to be a good third option at the position, while Miranda will be primarily a run blocker.

Johnson, who was converted from linebacker at the start of spring, could end up being Arizona’s fullback when it realizes how much it misses Clay Markoff in the backfield.

Offensive line

Starters: Josh Baker (Soph.), Josh Donovan (RS-Sr.), Paiton Fears (RS-Sr.), Jordan Morgan (Jr.), Jonah Savaiinaea (Fr.)

Backups: Joe Borjon (Soph.), Davis DiVall (RS-Fr.), JT Hand (RS-Fr.), Sam Langi (RS-Jr.)

Will also play: Woody Jean (RS-Fr.)

The first-team line that was together in the spring comprised 80 percent of what should be Arizona’s starting front five, the exception being at center. Assuming Baker can come back from a pectoral injury that kept him on the sidelines in March and April he will be the starting center. If not, Hand will slide into the role he handled adeptly in spring.

Hand, Borjon and DiVall will be the first ones rotating in, mostly at guard, where Donovan is the most injury-prone and Savaiinaea has the least experience but didn’t look like a true freshman during the spring.

Arizona has 14 scholarship offensive linemen, so others like Missouri/New Mexico transfer Jack Buford—if he’s eligible after a second transfer—and Shontrail Key most likely to play on special teams. The Wildcats could add another experienced blocker from the portal this summer.

DEFENSE

Defensive line

Starters: Kyon Barrs (Jr.), Hunter Echols (RS-Sr.), Jalen Harris (RS-Sr.), Paris Shand (Soph.)

Backups: JB Brown (Sr.), Jason Harris (RS-Fr.), Tiaolli Savea (Soph.)

Will also play: Evan Branch-Haynes (RS-Fr.), x-Russell Davis II (Fr.), Kevon Garcia (RS-Fr.), Nahe Sulunga (RS-Jr.), Dion Wilson Jr. (Soph.)

Barrs missed all of spring after foot surgery, the latest injury this talented interior defender has dealt with. When healthy he’s been stellar, with five sacks and eight tackles for loss in 10 games last season.

Shand has also been prone to needing to sit because of injury, which would open the door for Brown, UCLA transfer Savea, Branch-Haynes or others to get a shot to start.

Echols and Jalen Harris make for a very potent set of edge rushers, while Jason Harris could be primed for a breakout season if he gets in there for the right plays.

Arizona has four scholarship freshmen joining the position room this summer, but it may be hard for any of them to crack the rotation after missing the spring.

Linebacker

Starters: Malik Reed (Soph.), Jerry Roberts (RS-Sr.)

Backups: Anthony Solomon (Jr.), x-Sterling Lane (Fr.)

Will also play: Ammon Allen (RS-Fr.), Kolbe Cage (RS-Fr.), Jeremy Mercier (RS-Jr.), Dante Smith (RS-Jr.), Anthony Ward (RS-Fr.)

Huge question marks at a position that has a lot of new faces. Reed and Roberts are projected as the starters but that will depend mostly on their health, as each missed a lot of time during the spring (neither played in the Spring Game).

Lane, if he’s as good as projected, would slide into the second unit despite not showing up until the summer.

Two more freshmen LBs (Jacob Manu, Tyler Martin) join the program in the summer, but like Matt Weerts and converted running back James Bohls their best chance to play in 2021 may be on special teams.

Cornerback

Starters: Christian Roland-Wallace (Jr.), Treydan Stukes (Soph.)

Backups: Isaiah Mays (RS-Jr.), Isaiah Rutherford (Jr.)

Will also play: Jai-Ayviauynn Celestine (Fr.), Ephesians Prysock (Fr.)

Defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen plans to use a 4-2-5 alignment, with the fifth defensive back alternating between a corner and a safety. When it’s the former, Rutherford figures to be the nickel guy after starting seven games last season. Stukes supplanted him at the field corner spot last season and did nothing in the sprint to lose that gig, while Roland-Wallace spent much of the spring going 1-on-1 against McMillan and will benefit greatly from that matchup.

Celestine and Prysock both have bright futures, and will get some reps on defense, but may spend most of their first year on special teams. Same goes for incoming freshman Tacario Davis, who of the newcomer CBs is the most likely to be redshirted.

Safeties

Starters: Jaxen Turner (Jr.), DJ Warnell (Soph.), Christian Young (Sr.)

Backups: Gunner Maldonado (Soph.), Jaydin Young (Soph.)

Will also play: Dalton Johnson (RS-Fr.), Isaiah Taylor (RS-Fr.)

Turner and Christian Young combined for 23 starts last season, though CY was playing the Viper spot in Don Brown’s defense but now falls back to the more traditional strong safety position. Warnell would be the nickel corner/safety.

Maldonando and Jaydin Young bother started a year ago, and make for great backups and potential replacements if the starters have an injury. Johnson and Taylor both looked good in spring, with the former maybe the most promising of the remaining members of Kevin Sumlin’s last recruiting class who didn’t play in 2021.

Further depth arrives in the summer via preferred walk-ons.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kyle Ostendorp and Tyler Loop were the only kicker and punter on the roster in spring, and while some walk-ons are expected to be added this summer both are locked into their jobs. Same goes for long snapper Seth MacKellar, whose 28 career games played at Arizona are tied for fifth-most on the team.

As for kick and punt returners, that’s way too wide open to make a guess on right now.