UA FOOTBALL

Arizona football: New day, different 'D'

Coach Rodriguez vows to change defense that allowed 499 yards/game
2013-08-16T00:00:00Z 2013-11-25T20:13:07Z Arizona football: New day, different 'D'Daniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 16, 2013 12:00 am  • 

He won't get into specifics, but when the Arizona Wildcats open their season in two weeks against NAU, coach Rich Rodriguez expects his defense to look a little different.

And the explanation for it is a pretty simple one.

"If you give up 500 yards a game, you have to do something," Rodriguez said.

"Hopefully we'll be more aggressive."

It was actually 499 yards a game, but who's counting?

Either way, his point is well made. Whether it's more blitzing, more press coverage from defensive backs or another tactic, things will be different this season.

It remains to be seen how much it means, but through 13 practices of fall camp, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's unit has been further ahead of the offense. Casteel's group has more depth this season, more talent and some freshmen who are expected to contribute from Day 1.

Thursday, we took a guess at what the first-team offense will look like for the season-opener against NAU.

Today, it's the defense's turn.

Defensive line

Predicted starters: Reggie Gilbert, Sione Tuihalamaka and Tevin Hood

Why: Process of elimination. Tuihalamaka started 10 games last season and had 29 tackles, including two for loss. Hood started three games and came on at the end of the season. He has taken on a leadership role both on the line and with the entire defense. Gilbert is solid and reliable and a coach's favorite. He had six tackles-for-loss last season and 3 1/2 sacks.

Keep an eye on: Kyle Kelley, Dwight Melvin, Kirifi Taula and Luca Bruno. Kelley and Melvin both redshirted last season and seem ready to contribute this season. Rodriguez said Kelley had a very strong spring and is having a "pretty good" fall camp. Bruno is a true freshman, and Rodriguez said Bruno has a shot to play right away this season and would provide some size at 6 feet 4 inches and 240 pounds.

Linebackers

Predicted starters: Jake Fischer, Marquis Flowers and Scooby Wright

Why: Fischer and Flowers are obvious. The two seniors combined for 219 tackles last season with six forced fumbles and three interceptions. They aren't going anywhere. Wright, a true freshman, is the wild card. Rodriguez said after Thursday's practice that Wright "has stood out in about every practice." He's listed at 6-1, 235 and has made an impact right away. His spot could still change before the opener, but he's the pick for now.

Keep an eye on: Sir Thomas Jackson Keoni Bush-Loo, Derrick Turituri and C.J. Dozier. Jackson started all but one game last season as a redshirt freshman but hasn't spent a lot of time with the first team so far this fall camp. Dozier played as a true freshman last season and continues to develop. Like Wright, Turituri is a true freshman, who brings some size at 6-1, 250. Rodriguez said Turituri and Bush-Loo could end up fulfilling pass rushing roles for the UA this season and have a knack for getting to the quarterback.

Cornerbacks

Predicted starters: Jonathan McKnight and Shaquille Richardson

Why: They both started several games last season (Richardson 11 and McKnight nine). Their position coach, David Lockwood, said recently that both players are improved from last season. These two spots seem pretty locked down at this point.

Keep an eye on: Derrick Rainey, Richard Morrison, Devin Holiday and Derek Babiash. Rainey is a senior, who provides some depth and experience at the position. Morrison could play both ways this season for the UA, seeing time at corner and wide receiver. Holiday and Babiash are true freshmen, who are trying to work their way up the depth chart. Holiday has been getting a few more reps this camp than Babiash, a former four-star recruit.

Safeties

Predicted starters: Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Jared Tevis and Jourdon Grandon

Why: Bondurant started all but one game last season, and it was the New Mexico Bowl, which he missed with an injury. Tevis is one of the faces of the defense. Grandon switched to cornerback in the spring, but is back at safety now and should start at free safety.

Keep an eye on: Wayne Capers Jr., Will Parks, Yamen Sanders and Jamar Allah. Capers Jr., and Parks both played as true freshmen last season and have a better grasp of the defense this year. Sanders redshirted in 2012 and brings some physicality to the position. Allah appears to be Grandon's backup right now.

Contact reporter Daniel Berk at dberk@azstarnet.com or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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