Key seniors make way for 'Cats
A look at some final year players that'll make a difference
Paul Magloire, Jr.
The Wildcats’ linebacker corps—including star linebacker Scooby Wright III—was ravaged by injury in 2015.
The situation became so dire that Rodriguez occasionally had to play walk-ons for major stretches at a time.
In desperation, the coaching staff moved Magloire, a former safety, to linebacker and it turned out to be a wise move.
Magloire finished second on the team in tackles (72)—the highest among all returning players—and had four tackles for loss along with a forced fumble.
Magloire’s defensive back-like athleticism along with a 227-pound frame gives him a unique blend of size and speed at the linebacker position.
National analysts were so impressed by Magloire’s transition that he was named to the Bednarik Award preseason watch list—an award given to the best defensive player in college football—prior to the upcoming season.
Magloire is widely believed to be Arizona’s best defensive player, and he’s expected to be the anchor of new defensive coordinator Marcel Yates’ defense.
Like Magloire, Neal also changed positions at one point, and the results have been positive.
The 5-foot-10 cornerback transferred to Arizona from Notre Dame in 2013, redshirted that season, then played as a wide receiver in the 2014 season. With the Wildcats being thin at cornerback while having a logjam at wide receiver, Neal flipped to defense prior to the 2015 season.
He started in 11 of 13 games in 2015, and improved as the season went on, finishing third on the team in tackles (63) and tied for second in pass breakups (11).
Considering the 2016 season will be Neal’s second season back at cornerback, he’s expected to take another step forward.
The secondary’s former leader, Will Parks, graduated and Neal could be the one to fill that void.
Griffey, Grant, Phillips
We still don’t know who Arizona’s starting quarterback will be for the season opener, but we do know who the targets will be.
The Wildcats have one of—if not—the most experienced receiving corps in the Pac-12.
Cayleb Jones and David Richards graduated from the 2015 squad, but Trey Griffey, Samajie Grant and Nate Phillips all return for 2016.
All three have been contributors for Arizona since their freshman years, combining for 3,768 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns since they arrived in Tucson.
Phillips and Grant, both standing under 6-feet tall, are quick and shifty receivers while Griffey is a bigger, possession receiver, standing at 6-foot-3.
The trio is a solid fit for Arizona’s quick hitting offense that often emphasizes short routes and yards after the catch.
Grant is often regarded by Arizona defensive backs as the toughest player to cover and tackle in the open field because of his ability to create separation and make defenders miss.
Of the three receivers, Phillips had the most receiving yards last year (564), though Griffey and Grant did miss a few games due to injury.
The biggest knock on this receiving group is its consistency.
Last season, the inconsistency was a product of shaky quarterback play and injuries. Griffey missed seven games while Grant missed three, and the Wildcats shuffled between three different quarterbacks.
Jones is expected to be a leader in the Wildcats’ secondary this season.
Jones, who plays the “spur” position in Yate’s defense, started 11 games in 2015 and was fifth on the team in tackles (55), tied for third in tackles for loss (7.0) and tied for second in sacks (3.0).
Losing fellow safety Will Parks to the NFL means Jones will have to take on a larger role in 2016 and head coach Rich Rodriguez believes Jones is more than capable of doing so once he—and the rest of the defense—gets accustomed to the new defensive schemes.
“He’s an explosive player,” Rodriguez said. “He’s a guy that could lead us or be one of the leaders in tackles. He’s got a lot to learn because it’s all new to him, but he’s a competitive guy.”
There will undoubtedly be a learning curve, but Jones thinks the new defensive scheme will make him more of an impact player in 2016.
“The scheme is fun,” Jones said. “It allows you to do different things and puts you in position to make plays, so that’s what I like about it. My position will be to cover more and be more in the box. It gives DBs a lot more opportunity to make plays.”
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