Spring Football Preview: Arizona Wildcat Defense
With spring practices less than two weeks away, Arizona still has many questions on defense that need to be answered.
Who fills in at linebacker?
Arizona's biggest hole happens to be in the middle of the defense. The Wildcats lost all three starting linebackers to graduation, and the competition is wide open.
Arizona is expecting JUCO transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo to step in immediately and challenge for starting positions at outside linebacker.
The holdovers from last year include senior C.J. Parish and sophomores R.J. Young and Jake Fischer. All three saw time on special teams but rarely saw the field at linebacker.
Parish has the size to be a middle linebacker, and Young looks to challenge for time at outside linebacker. Fischer will challenge Parish for the middle linebacker spot, and while undersized, he has better instincts and seemed to be around the ball on every special teams play.
The wild card in all of this is redshirt freshman Trevor Erno. Erno was expected to come in last fall and challenge for a starting position. He came into training camp out of shape and redshirted. If he is able to come into spring practice in shape and hungry to play, he could shoot himself to the top of the depth chart.
Who steps up at defensive tackle?
Arizona had a solid rotation at defensive tackle last year, but the two main cogs were seniors Earl Mitchell and Donald Horton Jr. Both have graduated, and Mitchell is shaping up to be a fifth or sixth round pick in this year's NFL draft.
Arizona has good depth, but no player has stood out the past season to secure himself a starting spot.
Senior Lolomana Mikaele has seen plenty of action and will likely see extended action with the first team in the spring. Mikaele started three games last season and is the most experienced of the returning players.
Juniors Dominique Austin, Jonathan Hollins, and Jowyn Ward will also see extended time with the first team as they challenge for starting spots. Austin and Ward both saw spot action, while Hollins redshirted after transferring from junior college.
Willie Mobley will also contend for playing time once he comes in over the summer. Despite transferring from junior college, Mobley is considered a sophomore after not playing football this past season.
What happens with the secondary?
Despite losing two starters, Arizona's secondary is still in good shape.
They return Trevin Wade, who led the team in interceptions with five, and safety Robert Golden. Golden was originally a corner, so he could move back if the team needed him to.
At corner, seniors Marcus Benjamin and Mike Turner will battle it out for the other corner position. Benjamin played well in spot duty when Wade went down with an injury against USC and seems to have the inside track on the position.
At safety, Arizona is loaded. Sophomore Adam Hall and senior Joe Perkins will battle it out for the starting position in the spring. Hall has the size to make an impact at the position, while Perkins is the only one of the two to see the field as a safety.
Even if Hall or Perkins pulls ahead during the spring, they will still have to keep it up during training camp. Arizona's top recruit Marquis Flowers will provide a challenge for both players once he steps on campus. Flowers has both the size and speed to make an impact his freshman year, especially with one starting spot wide open.
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