UA coach Mike Stoops says the Cats need to improve on defense quickly. "We're not playing as violent or as physical as you need to," he said. Greg Bryan/Arizona Daily Star

The Arizona Wildcats open their season in 10 days.

That's 240 hours for coach Mike Stoops to agonize about his young defense. There's 14,400 minutes to spend watching tape, 864,000 seconds to worry if seven newcomers can step up and be productive.

It may sound like a lot of time, but the clock is ticking.

And Stoops is ticked.

"We're not playing good enough to compete for a championship at this time," he said. "If we don't get better defensively, then we'll struggle."

The Wildcats defense struggled throughout training camp, allowing 455 yards of total offense in the team's first scrimmage at Sierra Vista and 160 yards in Saturday's 25-play, lightning-shortened, "Meet the Team" night.

Today, the UA will turn its attention to Toledo. The Wildcats must address these three questions if they hope to be ready for the Sept. 3 opener:

1. Will the linebackers produce? Arizona entered camp with Jake Fischer, Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo - all newcomers - expected to shoulder the load at the three linebacker positions.

All three struggled, to different degrees.

Fischer, thought to be the most game-ready of the three, had issues with assignments. Vassallo showed great improvement from spring drills but must improve his tackling. Earls has yet to adjust to middle linebacker, arguably the most mentally taxing position on defense.

2. If they don't, will a nickel work? The Wildcats can scheme around their linebacker dilemma by playing a lot of nickel (five defensive backs) and dime (six defensive backs) packages.

Though the nickel - also known as the "4-2-5" defense - is a hit with programs like TCU, it could be a tough sell for the old-school Stoops.

Arizona struggled with tackling throughout training camp; replacing a linebacker (or two) with an extra defensive back would likely only hurt things.

"We're not playing as violent or as physical as you need to," Stoops said. "That's somewhat scary, but we'll keep plugging away."

3. Will a secondary shuffle lead to new stars? One look at freshman safety Marquis Flowers was all Arizona's coaches needed to move Robert Golden to cornerback. Golden is expected to start opposite Trevin Wade this fall, with Joseph Perkins and either Flowers or Anthony Wilcox manning the safety spots.

Fellow freshmen Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight could also see playing time at either cornerback, nickel back or dime back. The Wildcats' season may just hinge on how they respond to the rigors of college football.

"I was hoping we'd be a little further along, but we have a lot good players," Stoops said. "We're substituting three linebackers, a nickel back, an extra defensive back … and we've got a lot of young players. That correlates to some confusion. We have to eliminate some of the confusion so we can play more effectively."

Position - Starter/backup

DE: Ricky Elmore/ D'Aundre Reed

DT: Sione Tuihalamaka/ Willie Mobley

NT: Lolomana Mikaele/ Justin Washington

DE: Brooks Reed/ Apaiata Tuihalamaka

SLB: Jake Fischer/ C.J. Parish

MLB: Derek Earls/ Trevor Erno

WLB: Paul Vassallo/ R.J. Young

SS: Anthony Wilcox/ Marquis Flowers

FS: Joseph Perkins/ Adam Hall

CB: Robert Golden/ Marcus Benjamin

CB: Trevin Wade/ Mike Turner

Up next

• What: Arizona at Toledo - season opener

• When: 5 p.m. Sept. 3


• Radio: 1290-AM