Speed isn't just offensive for Arizona football
Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez is known for having a fast-paced offense focused around quick plays for big gains.
However, Rodriguez knows his team needs to work on the defensive side of the ball if it is going to improve upon last season’s record of 8-5, 4-5 Pac-12. One aspect that Arizona should excel at is sideline to sideline speed.
Since the Wildcats don’t have the kind of physical defenders seen at defensive powerhouses like Alabama, Arizona defenders use that speed to boost their 3-3-5 defense under Defensive Coordinator/linebackers coach Jeff Casteel.
Rodriguez and Casteel worked together at West Virginia, and the duo have brought the 3-3-5 to town with them since their inaugural 2012-13 season.
Arizona freshman Linebacker Scooby Wright III (31) tries to tackle Boston College senior running back Andre Williams (44) during the AdvoCare V100 Bowl in December. Wright and Thomas Jackson will return to lead this year's corps of linebackers in the fall.
One of the quirks of running the 3-3-5 is the lack of bodies near the line of scrimmage and the gaps given up on the field. The defense is designed to prevent deep plays and give up short yardage plays. It’s essentially a defense centered around damage control.
With so many gaps near the line of scrimmage, it’s critical to have a speedy linebacking core that can quickly address and attack the short yardage plays in order to prevent a defensive breakdown.
After the loss of last year’s two leading tacklers, Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers, to graduation, several Wildcats will need to step up to fill that void. Leading this year’s corps of linebackers are returnees Scooby Wright III, who will be a sophomore, and Sir Thomas Jackson, who will be a redshirt junior.
“We’re going to have some young guys come in and compete,” Rodriguez said. “We’re going to be deeper there … but the experience that Jake [Fischer] and Marquis [Flowers] had was pretty valuable.”
Jackson is coming off a disappointing season in which he had only eight total tackles. Casteel and the rest of the Wildcats need to see more of his 58-tackle performance from two years ago to offset their losses.
“I just want to be the leader of the defense,” Jackson said. “Since [Jake Fischer] left I want to take control of the linebacker spot, improve myself and teach the young people like Scooby [Wright].”
Wright played last season as a true freshman and complied 83 tackles and one interception on the season. The 6-foot-1 linebacker said he knows he’ll have a bigger part and is ready to assume a leadership role.
However, that leadership role will be tough to fill considering Fischer and Flowers led both on and off the field and were a huge reason why the 3-3-5 succeeded last season.
In addition to preventing deep plays, the 3-3-5 allowed Fischer and Flowers to excel based on their multifaceted styles of play. Both could rush the quarterback or fall back into coverage when needed. Wright and Jackson will have to improve in the coverage aspect to have a similar impact.
With only a few spring practices left, it’s safe to say Rodriguez has his work cut out for him on the defensive side of the ball.
—Follow Roberto Payne @HouseOfPayne555