The Cats return three veterans and identified three new guys that should help in 2003 at the nose tackle and end spots. Junior Vince Feula (6-0, 300) and senior Carl Tuitavuki (6-3, 224) solidified holds in the nose tackle rotation, while junior Carlos Williams (6-5, 295) and sophomore Brad Brittain (6-4, 285) seem poised to earn starting roles as the ends. Mid-year transfer David Sharp (6-3, 290) and redshirt freshmen Paul Philipp (6-2, 265) and Tim Volk (6-2, 266) also turned in solid spring efforts and will give Arizona some flexibility and depth, plus could contend for starts.
Philipp, notably, was an eye-catcher as a true freshman that would have played in 2003 but an early injury kept him out of the lineup long enough to take a redshirt year. His progress in spring ball earned him the Defensive Newcomer Award, one of the nice developments on that side of the ball. More good news in that regard is that he enters camp listed as a backup, meaning he'll be forced to push for a major role.
UA was 10th in the league in rushing defense last year and expected improvement from the front line will go a long way to bringing that way up in 2003. UA's alignments include 4- and 5-man looks up front but the 3-4 system gives line coach Marty Long fewer positions to work with and a solid group of candidates from which to pick. Mackovic expects "It's going to be a good mix and match group for us."
Arizona's best historical teams had upperclassmen on the defensive line who made a difference. In terms of experience, UA will have to get the job done with a different blend - the four lettermen and the three newbies. Two incoming freshmen in Cedric Cofer and Clifton Stanford will be tested in early camp.
Outside Linebackers - Coach Mike Hankwitz
Arizona has a pretty good group of candidates on the edge, and defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz put his charges through a nice crash course in spring ball. Hankwitz himself, fresh on the scene a week before spring practice commenced, did an admirable job pulling all the new-defense details together in an extremely short time.
By year's end in 2002, redshirt freshman Copeland Bryan (6-4, 240), a former walk-on, was starting on one side and returns as a probable pick this year. On the other side, Marcus Smith (6-5, 230) enters his second year after nearly wresting a starting role as a true freshman last year before an injury slowed his progress. Junior college redshirt Andre Torrey also seemed poised to start last year but ended up redshirting with a hip problem.
Bryan, a surprise in 2002, was among team leaders with five sacks. Torrey and three-year letterman Matt Molina (6-2, 240), plus converted fullback Antoine Singfield (6-1, 225) make for good depth. Molina has been a special teams stalwart and a key reserve for years. His experience will help the team somewhere.
Despite the predominant youth at the outside linebacker positions, coaches feel it could be one of the team's strengths and provide more pressure than a year ago when Arizona was ninth in the league in quarterback sacks. A trio of young recruits arrive in the fall, Lionel Dotson, Ryan Kilpatrick and Jason Parker, and could push from behind.
Inside Linebackers - Coach Craig Bray
Arizona benefited at the inside linebacker positions by luring former Oregon State defensive coordinator Craig Bray to Tucson to handle the position. Few things are better than another mind working on a defensive transition. "Craig had some very good impressions about how we should put together the defense. He has a lot of experience," Mackovic noted.
One thing UA did was move outside linebacker/defensive end Joe Siofele (6-3, 260) inside. He embarked on a mission to shed some of the lineman's weight he carried the past season and should end up in the 250 range. UA's returning tackles leader (66 hits) and tops in sacks (5.5), Siofele should end up in the 250-pound range, and a big physical presence in the middle.
Arizona had a succession of linebackers with subsequent NFL opportunities - Brant Boyer, Sean Harris, Charlie Camp, Chester Burnett, Marcus Bell and Lance Briggs - and Siofele will get a chance to take his game into the middle of the field where they roamed. It's a good fit for UA's new defense.
Bray's emphasis is shut-up-and-play, so the corps that emerges should be leaders by example. Junior Pat Howard had an outstanding spring session and appears capable of earning a starting role. He had late spring shoulder surgery and should be cleared from the onset of fall camp. Junior two-year letterman Kirk Johnson and redshirt freshmen John McKinney and Akin Akinniyi give the Cats some young talent.
Howard and Johnson have playing experience at inside linebacker for UA. The others do not. With Briggs and would-be sophomore Spencer Larsen (Mormon mission) gone, Arizona will largely field a unit that will need to adjust to the learning curve of game speed - at game speed.
Defensive Secondary - Coach Steve Bernstein
Help for the guys on the 'island' - players in coverage - arrived with Hankwitz in spring ball, and secondary coach Steve Bernstein was familiar with Hankwitz' game and ready to have the Cats change gears in the defensive backfield. The 3-4 will give UA more balance, and nowhere more evident than behind the lines.
Arizona was decent in passing defense a year ago, in fact finishing third in the Pac-10 by holding opponents to 224 passing yards per game in a pass-happy year, despite losing cover-man Michael Jolivette for 10 games (knee injury). Jolivette returned for spring ball and while still in rehabilitation did a nice job and cemented his role as a potential impact player. His 10 interceptions in 24 career games played argue the point, plus he tied former UA All-American Chuck Cecil with his 38th career pass break-up.
Sophomore Darrell Brooks sat out spring while recovering from an injury, but clearly will find himself on the field, somewhere. An all-academic type student with the playing ability for all-conference, Brooks played cornerback a year ago but likely will shift to free safety in 2003. The spring incumbent there, senior Clay Hardt, will have something to say about it, of course.
Senior corner Gary Love, junior redshirt Luis Nunez, sophomore Jason Martin and mid-year transfer Zeonte Sherman each had opportunities and did good work in the new system in spring ball. Incoming junior college recruit Ryan Patterson should get a swift chance at earning some work at a cornerback spot in fall camp. Love's experience - and knowledge as a former receiver - give him an edge.
At strong safety, sophomore Lamon Means was named the outstanding defensive player in spring ball and showed more than enough to help coaches move Hardt to the free safety position after three years on the strong side. Behind Means, junior Tony Wingate and redshirt freshman Gary Shepard also performed well in March and April, and figure to find roles. Shepard is one of the fastest players on the squad.
UA should have a nice cohesive unit in the secondary. Coaches departed from some of the mass substitution patterns UA used under the flex system and can rotate into some new packages without sending up flares. But while August should help coaches determine a solid top group, the other guys will play, and with more help over the top due to the 3-4 system's design.
Defensive Starters Returning:
DE Carlos Williams (9)
ILB Joe Siofele (12)
CB Michael Jolivette (11 in ''01)
DB DARRELL BROOKS (10)
DB Clay Hardt (11)
CB Gary Love (7)
Due to the length of the original press release we will post it in segments over the next few days. If you want to read it in it's entirety go to the official Athletic Department site at arizonaathletics.ocsn.com.