Arizona returns four defensive linemen who combined to start 25 games last season, but it’s going to take more than that for the Wildcats to be effective at rushing the passer and stuffing the run game.
A lot more.
Defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen said last week he would like to see more than a dozen players rotate on the line, with up to nine at the interior positions and another four or five on the edge. The Wildcats list 17 defensive linemen on their online roster, meaning almost everyone in the DL room could end up playing meaningful snaps in 2022.
“We’ve got to get them all in shape,” defensive line coach Ricky Hunley said after Monday’s practice, the fifth of training camp. “Somebody could get nicked here, somebody could get COVID there, and you just don’t know, so you got to always be ready.”
Last year Arizona played 11 defensive linemen, per Pro Football Focus, with only three averaging more than 40 snaps per game. That figures to be the case again this season, with the goal to regularly rotate bodies in the trenches to avoid fatigue.
“You got a guy who’s playing offensive line and he’s playing every rep, he’s feeling it,” Hunley said. “You got a guy who’s playing defensive line and he’s rotating every four plays, he’s feeling good about himself.”
The cycling of players also can help guys coming back from injury, such as junior Kyon Barrs, who missed spring ball due to foot surgery.
“I trust the coaches, I trust the trainers, the whole staff, whatever they think is best is what I’m gonna do,” said Barrs, who led the UA with five sacks last season despite playing in only 10 games. “I’m glad to be back out here with my guys. I’ve been preparing for this.”
While rest and recovery is important on the sideline, so too is remaining engaged in what’s happening on the field.
“When you’re on the sideline, you always want to focus on what’s going on on the field, helping your teammates, looking at the formations of the offense,” sophomore Paris Shand said.
JB back for one (more) last go-around
2022 will be the sixth season of college football for JB Brown, with this technically being his third “senior” year. He opted out of the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, then after playing the first four games of 2021 (and starting three) it was announced by coach Jedd Fisch that Brown wouldn’t play the rest of the season, thus retaining his final year of eligibility.
Brown said Monday that “a lot” went into the decision to stop playing last season, though he still practiced, but he declined to elaborate.
“I’m here now and I’m just ready to focus on the future,” said Brown, admitting he never thought that he’d still be playing in college after arriving at the UA in 2017. “God works in mysterious ways, and I can never question the man upstairs. It’s been a long one but a great one.”
Brown became a father during training camp last year, calling that “my biggest accomplishment I ever achieved.” His son, Joshua Leonidas Brown II, will have his first birthday next week, and Brown being a dad has helped him learn how to balance all aspects of his life.
His 32 career games and 17 starts ranks third and fifth on the team, respectively.
Shand a fast learner
Arizona’s base defense will feature three down linemen: a nose, a tackle and an end. Shand could end up playing all of them in the same game, as Hunley said the Toronto native’s versatility has made this possible.
“He’s a guy we can plug in at any spot across the front, which is something we’ve been working toward all summer,” Hunley said.
Not bad for a guy who didn’t take up football until 11th grade, having focused on soccer and basketball before his high school accounting teacher of all people suggested he try out for a city summer league team.
Shand played in 11 games last season, starting three including the Territorial Cup despite not feeling like he completely knew what he was doing.
“Last camp, I wasn’t fully honed into my craft and now I feel like this camp is going a lot better,” he said. “I’m playing all over the line, I play end, nose and tackle. I wouldn’t say it’s difficult, once you understand the fundamentals of the positions and where to go.”
Though he’s a late arrival to football, Shand believes his previous sports helped provide him with a baseline.
“Basketball helped me with my footwork,” he said. “It helped me with my conditioning, my hands, so it was a pretty easy transition.”
- Wide receiver Jacob Cowing and punter Kyle Ostendorp both landed another preseason accolade, each landing on Pro Football Network’s preseason All-America team. Ostendorp was put on the first team and Cowing was an honorable mention.
Both made the Pac-12 preseason team along with Barrs and cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace.
- Tuesday’s 10 a.m. PT practice will be the first in full pads, with the likelihood of some live tackling coming into play. To this point most 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 plays have been whistled dead as soon as contact was made between a ball carrier and a defender.
“We expect to see guys play as fast, as physical, and as fundamentally sound” with pads as without, Hunley said.
- Cornerback Treydan Stukes spent most of Monday’s practice on the sidelines, using a crutch on his left side while his right leg had a sleeve on it. It was unknown when or how he might have gotten hurt but he seemed to be walking fine.