Arizona has added a lot to its defense since last year. And of all the changes, defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen thinks the size will be noticeable.
“You’re going to see two nose guards that are 320-plus pounds, you’re going to see three-techniques that are 300 pounds, we didn’t have that much body mass last year to give us an opportunity to play the run better.” Nansen said. “So what you’re gonna see, linebackers that are a little bit bigger, safeties—Genesis (Smith) is a big safety—our corners are big.”
Bringing over newer guys can sometimes not allow a defense to come together and adjust on the field as a unit, but Nansen feels his team has gelled together quickly throughout the spring and training camp.
“It’s easy to adapt when we try to make changes with our scheme,” he said. “So that’s the one thing that stood out and then you know the ability to play together in a short period of time. I think these guys came actually together real quick so it shows you how mature they are as a group.”
As the defensive group has come together over the past few weeks, competition for starting roles is still going on.
“I would say that the battle is going on every day in terms of the defensive line rotation,” head coach Jedd Fisch said. “There are about seven to eight, maybe nine guys that are rotating through on a consistent basis. The linebacker battle between Jacob Manu, Daniel Heimuli and Justin Flowe is going on daily. And then we’ve got four safeties competing to play for two. We have depth we haven’t had here in a while, and that has made it a lot of fun to be out at practice every day because there’s a lot of competition.”
During the first game against NAU, Nansen said several linebackers are going to get snaps.
“Everybody’s gonna play,” he said. “I mean right now, Daniel (Heimuli) and Manu, you’re going to see Justin (Flowe) in there, you’re going to see Taye Brown, you’re going to see, Kamuela (Ka’aihue), So there’s those situations that those guys are going to play.” Nansen said.
Part of that linebacker group is former 5-star recruit Flowe, a transfer from Oregon. Fisch spoke about the challenges he dealt with during training camp.
“He’s probably one of the most explosive players that we’ve had here, probably the most explosive player that we’ve had here,” Fisch said. “He’s in an elite category in regards to his ability to run and hit, his ability to make plays on the ball, his ability to see a ball carrier, close the distance and explode through a guy. What Justin is learning is the system, and he’s learning how to play within the system. He’s had three different defensive systems in three years, and he’s continuing to now get another system thrown at him, and what are the adjustments.”