When Marquis Flowers signed with the UA in 2009, recruiting experts tagged him as a big and rangy safety who could move to linebacker in a pinch.
The Arizona Wildcats' defensive depth has put them in more than a pinch. It's a crunch.
And so Flowers is on the move.
Coaches shifted the 6-foot- 3-inch, 221-pound junior from "Spur" safety to outside linebacker last week with hopes of shoring up the thinnest position group on the team. Flowers will start at the weakside linebacker position Saturday, when the Wildcats open the Rich Rodriguez era against Toledo at Arizona Stadium.
Flowers, an Avondale native, is one of a handful of players who have changed positions with an eye on improving the defense. Fullback Taimi Tutogi has been taking snaps at defensive end over the last few weeks, while a pair of freshmen - Keoni Bush-Loo and Anthony Lopez - have been moved to linebacker from tight end and safety, respectively.
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Rodriguez is trying to be publicly positive about the Wildcats' personnel problems, even though it already spells trouble for the upcoming season. The UA's first-year coach said players' willingness to move is actually a good thing.
"It shows more than anything that, from my standpoint, we have unselfish players," Rodriguez said. "Guys like Marquis are going to new positions, and … Taimi playing on both sides of the ball."
Here's a look at Flowers' switch, in his own words:
On playing linebacker: "I played it before in high school, so it's nothing really new. The biggest challenge is, for me, staying low. I know that if I run into a lineman … in practice, they're going to put me on my back."
On similarities with the "Spur": "A lot of things are the same, and that was another good thing about moving me inside. I'm more in the core now, and I'm more helping out on the run. It's all pretty much the same; it should correlate, and I should be all right."
On the Wildcats' offseason preparations: "I think that as a whole group, the workouts and the preparations (are) the first thing people are going to notice when we go out there on Saturday. Working together like that, working hard like that, it pushes us closer together. I'm excited to see what Matt (Scott) does, what Ka'Deem (Carey) does, because I work out with them and I see them work hard. When we go out there, we can run all night. I think everybody's going to be ready. We're in great shape. Now, it's just time to execute."
On the key to his new position: "Play hard, play physical, and good things will come. I've played it before, I'm ready for it, and I can't wait for Saturday."
• Safety Adam Hall is "with the program," Rodriguez said Tuesday, though the rehabbing senior likely won't play this season.
Hall tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the Wildcats' spring game and will spend the second consecutive season recovering from reconstructive surgery. Hall has the option of redshirting the season if he wants to play in 2013.
Hall was present at Tuesday's on-campus practice, where he wore an off-color jersey designated for injured players. Rodriguez would not speculate on a timetable for Hall's return.
"I'll let the medical people determine that - whether he's ready to go next spring or not," he said.
Lamenting the linebackers
The Arizona Wildcats will open their season Saturday desperately thin at a handful of positions, especially linebacker. Here's a look at the UA's "two-deep" for all three linebacker spots:
• SLB: Hank Hobson (6 feet 3 inches, 224 pounds): Sophomore started one game a year ago and finished the season with eight tackles.
• MLB: Jake Fischer (6-0, 215): Junior returns after missing all of the 2011 season with a torn ACL.
• WLB: Marquis Flowers (6-3, 221): Junior moves to outside linebacker from safety, where he started all 12 games and made 68 tackles last season.
• SLB: Keoni Bush-Loo (6-4, 229): True freshman moves to linebacker from tight end, where he spent the first two weeks of training camp. Coaches love his speed: He competed in the 100 meters and 200 meters at Honolulu's Kamehameha School.
• MLB: Shadow Williams (6-0, 226): Freshman walk-on took long way here - Laveen (near Phoenix) to Tampa, Fla., to Tucson - but he's been a pleasant surprise so far.
• WLB: C.J. Dozier (6-2, 206): Freshman enrolled in January to take advantage of strength program and the possibility of playing time.
• What: Toledo at Arizona
• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
• TV; radio: ESPNU; 1290-AM
Linebackers by the numbers
Career starts at linebacker by the team's three projected starters
Career starts by middle linebacker Jake Fischer, who returns after missing all of last season with an injury
Career games played by Arizona's three projected backups, Keoni Bush-Loo, Shadow Williams and C.J. Dozier