For Arizona football the secondary comes first
The necessity of quality play from the secondary is at an all-time high. More and more teams are running spread offenses and throwing the ball deep downfield. Having a reliable secondary can disguise other team flaws and give defensive coordinators the freedom to experiment with their play-calling.
“We’re like brothers,” redshirt senior safety Jared Tevis said. “We’re trying to be the leaders of the team and have the guys rally around us.”
In Arizona’s 3-3-5 formation under defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jeff Casteel, the Wildcats have one more secondary starter than a traditional 3-4 or 4-3 defense that has four secondary starters. Thus, the extra defensive back gives the secondary a bit of leeway to gamble at times.
Luckily for Casteel, the 2014 Arizona football team has four of the five secondary starters from last season returning. That kind of experience could pay major dividends throughout the season.
Arizona safety Jared Tevis hits Boston College running back Andre Williams during the AdvoCare V100 Bowl game in Shreveport, La., on Dec. 31, 2013. Tevis is one of four returning starters in the Wildcats' secondary.
Despite the returning starters, head coach Rich Rodriguez said he’s not overly excited about the depth at cornerback and safety for the upcoming season.
“We’re not as deep as I like to be, particularly with playing a five [defensive back] system,” Rodriguez said, “but they’ve been moving around and disguising things pretty well. We’ve got to get some competition in the fall with these guys, but we have some experience back there.”
The experience largely comes from Tevis, redshirt senior Jonathan McKnight, redshirt senior Jourdon Grandon and senior Tra’Mayne Bondurant. The quartet combined for 282 of Arizona’s 923 total tackles last season.
Considering the Pac-12 Conference had eight players throw for over 2,900 yards last season and the majority of them are returning, it’s easy to see why Arizona needs more depth in the secondary. Highlighting the returnees are Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, both of whom should be on the shortlist of Heisman candidates for next year.
Providing that depth shouldn’t be the problem it has been in recent years, as there are 18 other defensive backs currently on the roster. The problem will be finding out which of those 18 players are ready to take on a role in limited snaps.
Junior safety William Parks is the only other returning secondary player to have more than 15 tackles last season, and he should be a frontrunner for some of that playing time.
As the 2014 spring football game approaches this Saturday, expect some of the secondary players to make a concerted effort to separate themselves.
“We’re doing this on TV; everybody is going to be watching,” Bondurant said. “We have to showcase what can do and showcase what we have behind us. People up and coming are going to have chances to show what they can do.”
—Follow Roberto Payne @HouseOfPayne555