In terms of return experience, the Arizona defense has an advantage over the offense with players who combined for 82 starts last season in 2022.
So what, new defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen think.
“There are no starters on our defense,” Nansen said Thursday after the Wildcats’ second preseason practice. “The best guy is going to play. So now is the time, every practice we do here counts. It counts. And that’s how we will determine who will play, who will not play.
If things go according to plan, Nansen hopes to have up to 20 players in rotation at the various defensive lineman, edge and linebacker positions, with up to nine inside linemen getting game snaps. Not leaving the field doesn’t seem to be part of the plan, at least not on the first two levels.
“That would never happen in my defense,” he said. “I like to play against a lot of guys. In college football, you average 80 to 90 snaps, so we need to have guys who could play, especially up front. You watch kids get hurt because they play so many cliches.
Last season, Christian Roland Wallace and young christian were the only UA players to play more than 90% of snaps defensively, and that should be the case again this fall. Of the top seven Wildcats, only Jalen Harris and Antoine Pandy recorded more than 80% of the shots.
Nansen, who coached the defensive line the previous two seasons at UCLA and was part of USC’s defensive team from 2014-2019, replaces Don Brown after he left to lead the UMass program. Brown was known to be an energetic coach and so far Nansen has shown his players the same.
“He’s excited,” senior linebacker jerry robert said. “Intensity, intensity, intensity, intensity, and I love him. Every day he tells us, don’t be a yo-yo. What he means by that is don’t be a guy who will come a day and will be down and the next day he will come with all the information. He said to be the same guy every day. And that’s what Coach Nansen does, he’s the same guy every day. He going to challenge me every day too.
Understand the interior
In addition to leading the defense, Nansen coaches inside linebackers. This is by far the most inexperienced positional group in Arizona on this side of the ball, with more than half of the players working in these spots, whether true or redshirt freshmen.
Add to that Roberts and sophomore Malik Roseauthe only guys with starting experience, were limited to the spring ball due to injury, and it was difficult to determine a depth chart.
“I think we’re still in this process,” Nansen said. “It’s just trying to figure out what the best puzzle is, trying to fit the guys into the system. It’s good to have Jerry back. But there is so much learning in this group. We’re so young, so it’s my job to make them gel.
Roberts is expected to start at linebacker Mike, assuming he’s 100% — he said Thursday he was “150%” recovered from a broken leg suffered last November in Washington state. Reed and freshman in red shirt Kolbe Cage are the best candidates for Will’s position while Nansen said he was a freshman in a red shirt Ammon Allen works at “all three positions,” including a linebacker Sam position that was recently installed to complete what should be a basic 4-2-5 roster.
Back where it belongs
Reed, of Chandler, was the No. 16 prospect at Arizona in the 2020 recruiting class, but ended up committing to Wisconsin. He spent one season with the Badgers before entering the NCAA transfer portal and coming to Tucson, where he said Thursday he had hoped to be from the start.
“I wanted to come here after high school, to be honest, but I didn’t know with the old staff,” Reed said.
He played 10 games last season for UA, starting the Territorial Cup and recording a team-high eight tackles. A hamstring injury suffered in early spring affected him the rest of the way, but after working with a strength trainer Tyler Owens he feels in full force.
“They corrected my racing position, so it went a long way,” said Reed, who said being limited in the spring “made me want to play even more.”
Nansen said Reed was one of the most improved players during the offseason training program, and Thursday was one of the best days he’s seen of him on the court. ‘coaching.
“Right after practice I said to him, I said, I need it,” Nansen said. “I need you to be consistent in practice.”
A paying bet
Allen and junior special teams stand out Dante Smith were placed on the stock exchange just before the start of the pre-season camp. For Allen, it was the fulfillment of a tacit agreement between him and the coach Jedd Fisch when he was recruited a year ago.
“Before I committed here, me and Coach Fisch talked a bit,” said Allen, a 3-star prospect from Gilbert. “With COVID, the situations with scholarships, there were none available. So they asked me if I would be able to walk out of that freshman year and potentially win a scholarship.
Despite scholarship offers from the Air Force, Army, Eastern Michigan and Navy, according to 247Sports, Allen gambled on himself by paying his own fees for a year. The converted safety appeared in four games on special teams in 2021, but is now in the mix at all linebacker positions.
“It’s tough at times, but it’s still a lot of fun,” Allen said of the change in position. “I had to get my racing game, the racing reads a lot better. I took my passing responsibilities out of safety, so it can be pretty easy, but read the run, read the lineout, I had to learn that.
More difficult was gaining weight. Listed at 215 pounds, after playing it safe in high school between 195 and 200, Allen wants to hit 225, but the “work” of consuming enough food hasn’t been easy.
“Right now I’m eating about 5,500 to 6,000 calories a day just to maintain my weight,” he said.