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Arizona football training camp: Projecting Wildcats’ season-opening depth chart

arizona-wildcats-football-training-camp-depth-chart-projections-nau-2023 Arizona Athletics

Three weeks of practice are in the books for Arizona as it prepares for the 2023 season, which officially begins Sept. 2 at home against NAU.

Most of the training camp workouts have been open to the media, including Saturday’s scrimmage that was held inside Arizona Stadium. There are a few starting spots that remain up for grabs, but for the most part the Wildcats’ lineup looks pretty set as the team moves into game-week mode.

Here is our projection of the first depth chart, which the UA is likely to release a few days before the opener:


Starter: Jayden de Laura

Backup: Noah Fifita

Isn’t it nice to have so much certainty at a key position?

Arizona will be starting the same quarterback in back-to-back season openers since Khalil Tate in 2018-19, with de Laura coming off a stellar first year as a Wildcat. If the UA throws as much as it did in 2022 he will challenge many school records, and if he can reduce his turnovers the offense could be unstoppable.

Fifita beat out some veterans for the backup spot a year ago, and this offseason he’s held off 4-star prospect Brayden Norman to retain that job.

Running back

Starter: Michael Wiley

Backups: Jonah Coleman, DJ Williams

Arizona is going to rotate through four ball carriers, so it’s very unlikely one back will get to 200 carries in a season for the first time since JJ Taylor had 255 in 2018, but Wiley will be the go-to guy for his dependability as well as his tremendous pass-catching skills.

Coleman and Williams will be in there on a regular basis, particularly in short yardage situations where their bigger frames allow for smashmouth football. And Rayshon ‘Speedy’ Luke will also have a role, one that will try to maximize his speed by getting him out in space.

“We’ve got different flavors,” RB coach Scottie Graham said. “It’s like a rainbow.”

True freshman Brandon Johnson has missed time recently with a shoulder injury and did not participate in Saturday’s scrimmage. He almost certainly will be redshirted, but could see action in a few games if healthy.

Wide receivers

Starters: Jacob Cowing, Montana Lemonious-Craig, Tetairoa McMillan

Backups: Kevin Green Jr., AJ Jones

Dorian Singer led the Pac-12 in receiving yards but left for USC, where he is likely to start for the Trojans in the Week Zero game against San Jose State. His replacement is Lemonious-Craig, the Colorado transfer who has fit in seamlessly despite not being around for spring ball.

Cowing looks as good as ever, and after working out in the spring at an outside position has more versatility as he returns to the slot. And McMillan has had a tremendous camp and should surpass all expectations as a sophomore after being a freshman All-American.

Arizona will try to go more than three deep this year, with redshirt freshmen Green showing he can handle the slot and Jones a good fill-in for the bigger targets on the outside. One or more of the freshmen receivers the UA added could also get some meaningful snaps, with Jackson Holman and Malachi Riley the top candidates.

Tight end

Starter: Tanner McLachlan

Backup: Keyan Burnett

Pretty cut and dried here, with McLachlan coming off the best season for a UA tight end since Rob Gronkowski and in position to break one or more of Gronk’s career records with another big year.

Burnett has been able to be brought along slowly after showing up last year with a lot of hype, and that should benefit him this fall. He’s had some very good practices and should be more involved in the passing game as long as he continues to show the ability to block when asked to.

Offensive line

Starters: LT Jordan Morgan, LG Wendell Moe, C Josh Baker, RG Raymond Pulido, RT Jonah Savaiinaea

Backups: LT Sam Langi, LG Leif Magnuson, C Grayson Stovall, RG JT Hand, RT Joe Borjon

If you didn’t know Morgan had knee surgery less than nine months ago you wouldn’t know it based on how he’s looked in the preseason. There’s no reason he won’t be starting the opener as de Laura’s blind-side blocker. To his right is Moe, who started three of the final four games last season and works well between Morgan and Baker, whose 14 consecutive starts are the most of the team.

The right side is where the changes are, though they’re not surprising. Pulido, the 3-star prospect Arizona flipped from Alabama, has looked so good at right guard there has been no second thoughts about sliding Savaiinaea over to right tackle after being a freshman All-American at RG.

Langi is probably the sixth man, based on his versatility playing both guard and tackle in the past, while Hand would be a good sub for the interior three positions. Borjon missed several practices this past week but was available for the scrimmage, and he could get in there as well.

Defensive line

Starters: DE Taylor Upshaw, DT Tyler Manoa, NT Bill Norton, KAT Isaiah Ward

Backups: DE Ta’ita’i Uiagalelei, DT Sio Nofoagatato’a, NT Jacob Kongaika, KAT Russell Davis II

Arizona will start four players on the defensive line, but who are the first ones on the field won’t necessarily be the ones with the most snaps. Defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen said he’d like to play eight or nine up front to keep everyone fresh for the fourth quarter, and that’s been evident throughout preseason practice.

The ones who have looked best in camp are the ones pegged now as the starters, with Ward the most surprising name in that quartet. The redshirt freshman has climbed the depth chart the last few weeks thanks to his speed and quickness, with his position the one that will go against the best opposing offensive tackle while Upshaw will get lined up on the side with a tight end.

On the interior, Manoa, Nortan and Nofoagatoto’a are going to get the most snaps, with junior college transfer Keanu Mailoto also likely to be part of that rotation. A wild card is Tia Savea, who played seven games last season but has struggled to stay healthy. If he can avoid further injury he’ll be a factor on the interior as well.

Orin Patu and Sterling Lane II are also going to be used on the edge, so in an 85-snap game it’s very likely no one will play more than 50 up front.


Starters: Daniel Heimuli, Jacob Manu

Backups: Justin Flowe, Kamuela Ka’aihue

Nansen said Saturday that heavy rotation at linebacker isn’t as doable because of the amount of pre-snap responsibilities those players have, so this could be a lot like 2022 when more than 70 percent of the snaps were played by two guys. That was by necessity, while this time around it’s more by design, because there are options.

Manu is locked in as a starter, and is in effect a veteran on this defense because he’s logged more snaps in Nansen’s scheme than anyone else. Who will start next to him is a toss-up between Heimuli and Flowe, transfers from Washington and Oregon, respectively.

Flowe is the bigger name, and probably has more upside, but Heimuli has been the more consistent performer in camp and deserves to be out there as much as possible. Flowe’s seemingly bottomless supply of energy might work best in obvious passing situations, where he could either be another pass rusher or fall back and cover the middle.


Starters: CB Ephesians Prysock, CB Dylan Wyatt, NB Treydan Stukes, SS Gunner Maldonado, FS Isaiah Taylor

Backups: CB Tacario Davis, CB Jai-Ayviauynn Celestine, NB Martell Irby, SS Dalton Johnson, FS Genesis Smith

Arizona’s base defense is five defensive backs, but there will be plenty occasions where it goes to six and brings in a fourth cornerback. All six in the two deep are capable of holding their own, with Wyatt probably the biggest standout from the first group since he showed up in the summer from Cal Poly.

Among the second unit, Smith has looked so good as a true freshman he could easily take over a starting spot (probably Taylor’s) by the third or fourth game of the season. And Celestine, who did not play in 2022, has looked very good in coverage.

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