About halfway through the 2015 season, the injury-riddled Arizona Wildcats moved Paul Magloire Jr. from safety to linebacker out of necessity. It turned out to be a positive move for both team and player.
Magloire finished second on the team in tackles that season and ranked first last year. He is a candidate to be selected in the upcoming NFL draft.
This spring, Arizona is hoping to repeat that success story. Redshirt freshman Gavin Robertson has shifted from “Bandit” safety to “Will” linebacker and worked with the first team when spring practice began last week.
“We recruited him as a physical safety,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said. “He’s gotten bigger. He’s done a good job in the weight room.”
The coaches concluded late last season that linebacker would be a better spot for Robertson, who has grown from his listed 6-1, 210 pounds to 6-3, 225. Robertson initially resisted the idea but has come to embrace it. One of his first steps in learning to play linebacker was to watch Magloire and seek his counsel.
“He was giving me some pointers,” Robertson said. “Just use your speed. You’ve got the safety instincts. Use all that at linebacker.”
Robertson, a former three-star recruit from Auburn, Washington, said the biggest challenge he faces is dealing with offensive linemen. The “Bandit” and “Spur” safeties often line up near the line of scrimmage in Arizona’s defense. But they’re usually outside the tackles and typically cover a receiver or blitz.
New linebackers coach Scott Boone and “Mike” linebacker Brandon Rutt are working with Robertson on his hand usage, positioning and recognition. Boone likes what he has seen so far.
“That’s what they’re supposed to look like,” Boone said. “He’s big, he’s physical, he’s very athletic. It’s my job to make sure he knows what to do.”
Although Robertson has gotten bigger and looks the part, one could argue this move was made out of necessity as well. With Magloire, third-leading tackler Michael Barton and others no longer around, Arizona has very few scholarship Mike and Will linebackers available for spring drills.
Rutt, a redshirt junior, is the veteran of the group. Freshmen Tony Fields II and Jose Ramirez are just three practices into their UA careers. Four more freshman linebackers – Joshua Brown, Anthony Pandy, Colin Schooler and Kylan Wilborn – are due to arrive in summer.
Redshirt freshman Kahi Neves is working at the “Stud” position behind senior DeAndre’ Miller. Another redshirt freshman, Jacob Colacion, has been working on the side while recovering from a concussion.
“I feel like it’s a good opportunity to make an impression,” Robertson said.
Arizona’s “Spring Showcase” next week will be free and open to the public.
The two-hour practice takes place at 6 p.m. Thursday at Arizona Stadium. Gates open at 5 p.m. Pac-12 Networks also will televise the event.
Parking in the lots east of the stadium is free. Fans also can park in the Cherry Avenue Garage for a small fee.
In addition to drills and scrimmaging, the Showcase will feature interactive opportunities for fans.
All seating is general admission and limited to the ZonaZoo section. Concessions and restrooms will be available.
Players and coaches will not sign autographs after the practice, but Arizona is planning a fan-appreciation event in April. Details will be announced later.
Butler to Glenville
Former Arizona player and graduate assistant Kylan Butler is set to become the running backs coach at Glenville (W.Va.) State College, where Rodriguez was the head coach from 1990-96.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Rodriguez said. “KB did a great job for us. I love Glenville. I think it’s a great place for him.”
The Pioneers’ current coach is Eric Smith, cousin of UA quarterbacks coach Rod Smith, who played at Glenville under Rodriguez.
- Tailback J.J. Taylor, who’s recovering from a broken ankle, said he’s about 80 percent of his usual self at this point. Taylor missed the final eight games of last season. Despite Taylor’s assessment, running backs coach Calvin Magee said Taylor looks quicker than before his injury.
- Magee said he wants to get the younger backs as many reps as possible. He said big, bruising freshman Nathan Tilford (6-2, 203) is more agile than Magee thought he’d be.
- Arizona practiced in pads for the first time, including live scrimmaging at the end. Quarterback Brandon Dawkins and the offense had a good day.
- Rodriguez said senior receiver Cam Denson is among the veteran players whose “time has come. … I think Cam is poised to have a big year.”