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 to the entire 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 all the coaching changes, this question 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.
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.
With Arizona taking steps to try to fix its defense new defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads and new outside linebackers coach Andy Buh will have coach up the linebacker corps.
- Day Day Coleman
- Colin Schooler
- Tony Fields II
- Anthony Pandy
- Jalen Harris
- Eddie Siaumau-Sanitoa
- Kylan Wilborn
- Derrion Clark
- Jabar Triplett
- Derick Mourning
The position itself has possibly the two most consistent players on Arizona’s defense in seniors Tony Fields II and Colin Schooler, who have been the starting linebackers since their freshman seasons. The two have combined for 599 total tackles throughout their time in an Arizona uniform.
Despite their continuity on the field, they have had a lack of consistency when it comes to who has been the linebackers coach. They have seen three different coaches coaching the position — Scott Boone (2017), Marcel Yates (2018) and John Rushing (2019). Now, Rhoads and Buh are coaching the position for the 2020 season. That makes a new linebacker coach every season that Fields II and Schooler have been on campus.
Like the defensive line, it is the job of the linebackers to help to pressure the quarterback and cause havoc in the backfield. Arizona struggled to pressure the quarterback last year, only sacking opponents a total of 17 times compared to 23 sacks the previous year.
Plus, it is not just in the sack department that Arizona took a step backward. Last season even Schooler took a step back in the tackle-for-loss category. During his sophomore season, he had 21.5 TFL, which ranked No. 3 in the nation, compared to 11.5 last season.
Even though there is talent at the position, issues have plagued the position with all of the coaching changes and different voices the linebackers have heard in the last four years.
Something to keep in mind is that former STUD position player Jalen Harris is switching to the outside linebackers position with the new scheme that Rhoads is implementing. Harris’ father Sean Harris, of the Desert Swarm era, is one of the best linebackers in program history.
The biggest question mark at this position is what is behind the starting four linebackers? When looking at the depth, players with very few snaps have played, bringing into question the ability to have quality depth.
As if depth issues weren’t enough, incoming freshman Jabar Triplett committed to Arizona over Texas Tech is going to have to sit out the season with a torn Achilles.
Even with all the issues at the position, a lot of upside exists with two stalwarts — Schooler and Fields — to rely on.
Anthony Pandy also showed encouraging development last year as a junior with 66 tackles and two sacks after registering only 25 tackles the previous year. He should help ease the concerns of Arizona’s depth at the position.
Switching Harris to the outside linebacker position is going to help him be more creative when rushing the passer inside of always being in the three-point stance. Schooler and Fields should have a better season and Harris is bound to develop into a pass rusher that Arizona desperately needs.
These reasons are why the linebackers get a grade of B- for this position break down. It’s a grade that shows talent exists, but the position is an injury or two away from being in a rough situation.