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Arizona football: A look at the Wildcats’ linebackers entering training camp

7th in a series

arizona-wildcats-preseason-football-preview-linebackers-justin-flowe-jacob-manu-leviticus-sua Arizona Athletics

Arizona will begin preseason training camp on Wednesday, Aug. 2, a month of workouts and practices to get the Wildcats prepared for the 2023 season that opens Sept. 3 against NAU.

To get you primed for camp, we’re breaking down each position group on the roster. Today we focus on the linebackers.

Players on roster: 13 (8 scholarship, 5 walk-on)

Projected starters: Justin Flowe (So.), Jacob Manu (So.)

The centerpiece of Arizona’s NCAA transfer portal haul highlights this revamped position group, with Flowe coming to Tucson after three injury-challenged seasons at Oregon. Once the top linebacker prospect in the 2020 recruiting class, Flowe appeared in 10 games last year with two starts, registering 35 tackles, but he never managed to show the promise that he came out of high school with.

Arizona will give the 6-foot-2 Flowe every opportunity to be that superstar, all but inking him in as the starter at Mike linebacker from the moment he committed. He should be a major upgrade from Jerry Roberts, who started all 12 games at MLB in 2022 and played 766 of 884 defensive snaps but missed a team-worst 23 tackles.

Lining up next to Flowe is Manu, the first true success story of this coaching staff’s recruiting efforts. Massively underrated—and much smaller than the 5-11 he’s listed at—coming out of high school, Manu got his first career start against North Dakota State when the UA went with a 4-3 front and then took over the Will spot permanently for the final six games of the season.

Manu’s play late in the Territorial Cup secured the first win over ASU since 2016, and with a full offseason in the strength program he should be even more effective the second time around.

Top backups: Daniel Heimuli (Jr.), Jeremy Mercier (Sr.), Leviticus Su’a (Fr.)

Another notable pickup from the portal is Heimuli, who spent three seasons at Washington as a backup and had his two highest tackle outputs against the Wildcats in 2020 and 2021. He can spell Manu or come in as a third linebacker if defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen were to switch up the alignment.

Mercier, a walk-on who could find himself on scholarship for this final season if Arizona opts to reward him for his efforts, logged more than 100 defensive snaps last year as a backup to Hunter Echols on the edge. At 6-3 and 240 pounds he can play both LB spots.

Su’a was Arizona’s top defensive signee in the 2023 class, beating out Stanford and UCLA for the 4-star prospect. Since he wasn’t here for spring ball he’s behind the curve, but Manu didn’t show up until the summer a year ago so a similar path to meaningful playing time could be in his future.

Also expected to contribute: Ammon Allen (So.), Sterling Lane II (So.), Kamuela Ka’aihue (Fr.)

Allen only played 24 defensive snaps last year but had the fourth-best tackling grade on the team, per Pro Football Focus. Lane got into five games as a true freshman, his 17 snaps at UCLA burning his redshirt.

Ka’aihue signed early and got a lot of run during spring ball, and the team has included him on the list of players speaking at Tuesday’s local media day, a goos sign he’s expected to play a role this fall.

Next up: Defensive backs