Arizona Football

Arizona Wildcats Football Position Breakdown: Defensive Line

When Arizona announced the hiring of Kevin Sumlin, becoming the program’s 32nd head football coach, the news came with overwhelming praise from national media as one of the best hires of the 2017-18 off-season.

Now, headed into Year 3 under Sumlin, Arizona has endured back-to-back losing seasons with a combined record of 9-15, and to make matters worse, Arizona is 0-2 against rival Arizona State.

After finishing the 2019 season on a seven-game losing streak and seeing changes in the coaching staff on the defensive side of the ball, optimism surrounding the program has gone dormant.

Arizona has taken steps to improve on the defensive side of the ball by replacing former defensive coordinator Marcel Yates with former UCLA defensive backs coach Paul Rhoads, who has head coaching experience in the past at Iowa State from 2009-15. 

Still, even with Arizona replacing its whole defensive staff, the question that comes to mind, does Arizona have enough talent on the field to make for a better 2020 season?

I will be breaking down position-by-position giving out talent evaluation grades to determine whether Arizona will see any changes in the win-loss column next season, or if it will be more of the same.

Position Breakdown

Defensive Line: C-

It’s well known that Arizona struggled on the defensive side of the ball last season, giving up an average of 35.8 points per game and allowing 181.6 rushing yards per game.

Arizona has taken steps to fix its defense, including bringing in new defensive line coach Stan Eggen, to solve its problems on the line. 

Key Departures:

  • Justin Belknap
  • Finton Connolly

Returning Starters:

  • JB Brown
  • Kyon Barrs
  • Trevon Mason

Backups:

  • Nahe Sulunga
  • Jalen Cochran
  • Issaiah Johnson
  • Myles Tapusoa
  • Kwabena Watson
  • Mykee Irving

Additions:

  • Aaron Blackwell
  • Dion Wilson
  • Paris Shand
  • Regen Terry
  • Shontrail Key

One thing to keep in mind is that Jalen Harris during the 2019 season saw a lot of playing time with his hand in the dirt on the line, even though he was listed as a STUD and not a down lineman. Now with the new defensive scheme that coach Rhoads will be putting in place, Harris is currently listed as a linebacker and may see less time in the three-point stance.

When looking at the depth of the defensive line one thing stands out. Arizona averages 267.3 pounds per player on the line. That puts Arizona second to last in the conference, only ahead of Washington State, which averages 263.5 pounds per player on the line.

The Pac-12, as a conference, averages 281.1 pounds per player on the defensive line. The top-five schools all average above 287 pounds per player on the line.

Although there are size issues along the defensive line, there are still areas of optimism when looking at the potential of the position for the 2020 season.

Last season, there was noticeable growth at the defensive tackle position on the line. Although it might not have shown in overall numbers, Arizona was able to rotate Barrs, Sulunga, and Tapusoa in and out of games giving the position much needed depth.

However, one of the most significant issues with the line and the front seven was the inability to pressure the opposing quarterback.

Last season, Arizona managed to sack the quarterback 17 times, which was enough to finish ranked 111th in the nation, according to NCAA stats.

I know getting to the quarterback doesn’t just fall on the defensive line; however, it is the defensive line’s job to set the tone to get that push upfront to help the rest of the defensive unit.

Brown led the defensive line in sacks with only three in 12 games.

So, for those reasons that is why I gave the defensive line a C- heading into this season. Personally, I think there is talent on the line that hasn’t yet reached their full potential.

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