Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez has been searching for more depth on defense since he arrived for the 2012 season. A couple of transfer linebackers are helping the cause.
Cal graduate transfer Michael Barton and ex-Iowa Hawkeye John Kenny have played increasing roles in the past couple of weeks, Kenny starting for injured DeAndre’ Miller and Barton taking time away from senior Paul Magloire.
Kenny had three tackles and a pass break-up last week against UCLA. He made four tackles a week earlier vs. Washington.
Barton has 10 tackles, including an assist on a tackle for loss, in the past two weeks. He played nearly a full game at weak-side linebacker against UCLA, after Magloire started.
“The good thing is we have some depth at that position,” defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said Wednesday.
“(Magloire and Barton have kind of been in and out. They’re both playing well right now. Barton is a little bit more physical. He plays faster, I think, than Paul does. … But, Paul this week, we have seen some stuff from him; he’s starting to improve.”
Magloire, converted from safety last season, is better against the pass, said Yates, adding that he likes Barton’s all-around game.
“He reads stuff and goes,” Yates said. “He plays fast.”
Kenny sat out last season per transfer rules after leaving Iowa, where he was a fullback/linebacker. The junior is playing Arizona’s “stud” linebacker spot, which is a X-factor position. The “stud” can be a stand-up end and rush the passer or drop back into coverage.
“This is awesome because I played this in high school. These were my instincts from high school. It was easy to pick up, easy to learn,” Kenny said.
“Coach Yates really wants us to mess with the quarterback. If you walk up to the line of scrimmage, then the O-line points you out and sets protection toward you, and that can set another ‘backer free. It’s all kind of mind games, just like what the offense tries to do with us with all the motion and alignments.”
“It’s a cool position.”
The oft-injured Miller, who has missed the past two games because of an ankle injury, could be back this week. He was listed as probable on Thursday’s injury report. He is still tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (four) and sacks (two).
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Barton, pictured above, is second on the team in tackles with 26, one behind safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles. Barton notes, correctly, that Arizona’s defense has allowed a touchdown drive on the opening possession of the second half in each of the past three games.
“It definitely changes the momentum of the game,” he said. “So when the defense comes out after halftime, we have to get off of the field.”
Right now, the linebacker group has a solid two-deep at all three spots — Miller/Kenny, Barton/Magloire and Cody Ippolito and Jake Matthews at middle linebacker.
Kenny missed out on Iowa’s Rose Bowl last season, but says he has no regrets about transferring. He keeps in touch with many of his former teammates, especially quarterback C.J. Beathard.
“I love all the people, all the teammates, back there,” Kenny said. “It’s cool having, like, two families. … I love this team, love the players, coaches. It is everything I thought and more.”
Kenny did say his time at Iowa gave him an edge in fantasy football. One of Iowa’s opponents in 2014 was Northern Iowa, which featured a running back named David Johnson. The Arizona Cardinals took him in the third round last season.
Iowa held Johnson to 34 yards on 13 carries, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Johnson had five catches for 203 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown, against the Hawkeyes.
“He was just making plays like crazy. We knew he was a freak,” Kenny said. “I drafted him in fantasy, and everyone was like, ‘Who is that?’ That’s funny. He’s doing his thing now.”