2014 Arizona Preview: What You Need To Know
Arizona S Tra'Mayne Bondurant
Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Arizona (Getty Images)
2014 Arizona Preview
What You Need To Know...
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer
What You Need To Know About The Offense: In theory, the Wildcats should have been more efficient and explosive in the second year running Rich Rodriguez's read-option. It didn't happen, even as Ka'Deem Carey rushed for 1,885 yards and 19 scores. Instead, Arizona averaged five points and 68 yards fewer per game than in 2012. Reversing last season's trend will be very difficult now that Carey has left early for the NFL, and QB B.J. Denker exhausted his eligibility. Even worse, the team closed spring drills without a clear-cut starter at quarterback or running back. Wide receiver and offensive line, on the other hand, are rock solid and likely to rank among the best units in the Pac-12. Now that Austin Hill is back from his ACL tear, and Cayleb Jones and DaVonte' Neal have transferred from Texas and Notre Dame, respectively, the ‘Cats are in the enviable position to audition a versatile receiver or two at running back this summer.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: The Wildcats were markedly stingier in 2013 compared to the prior year, making the quantum leap that coordinator Jeff Casteel desperately sought. The D must keep that trend going in 2014, because the offense is likely to struggle to score consistently in the early stages of the season. Arizona returns six starters, with the greatest concentration of familiar faces coming from the five-man defensive backfield. Four seniors headline the secondary, including all-star candidates Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Jonathan McKnight and Jared Tevis. Up front, more help is being requested for mainstay DE Reggie Gilbert and LB Scooby Wright. Arizona's quickest pathway to success this fall will be to generate more of a push at the line of scrimmage. That inability to beat opposing linemen off the snap was central to the Wildcats ranking No. 9 in Pac-12 sacks, No. 7 in run defense and No. 10 in red-zone touchdowns yielded.
Players You Need To Know
1. WR Austin Hill, Sr.
Hill never played a down in 2013, suffering a season-ending ACL tear last spring. Since the injury happened so early, though, the Wildcats expect their star receiver to fully recapture his sophomore form. Two years ago, Hill emerged from the shadows to catch 81 balls for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns, en route to a spot on the All-Pac-12 Second Team. Operating from the slot, he's one of the most physically imposing receivers in the country. He's not only 6-3 and 210 pounds, but he has the wheels to get behind the secondary as well.
2. Spur Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Sr.
Bondurant has been one of the longtime mainstays of the Arizona defense during the Rich Rodriguez era. The veteran of 30 career starts is now an aficionado of coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 stack, which invites the ‘spur' to freelance to wherever a play is happening. The 5-10, 198-pound Bondurant collected 72 tackles, seven stops for loss, two sacks, five pass breakups and a career-best four interceptions in 2013. Even when he isn't making the play, he's usually doing something to disrupt the timing of the opposition.
3. LB Scooby Wright, Soph.
Plenty of Pac-12 teams would like a do-over on the recruitment of Wright, who delivered an auspicious first season in Tucson. He not only won a starting job as a rookie, but he improbably parlayed 83 tackles, including 9.5 behind the line, into honorable mention All-Pac-12. The 6-1 and 230-pound Wright is shifting inside for 2014, much stronger and much wiser than he was at this time last year. He'll surpass last season's output, leaving an even bigger imprint on opposing backfields.
4. Bandit Jared Tevis, Sr.
As former walk-ons go, Tevis continues to stand out as a shining example of perseverance and hard work. For the second straight year, he was among the team leaders in tackles, making 83 stops and three forced fumbles to earn honorable mention All-Pac-12. Had he not missed a pair of games to injury, he might have led the ‘Cats in tackles. The 5-10, 195-pound Tevis is one of the cornerstones of a safety trio that will fly from sideline-to-sideline and make a ton of plays for the Wildcats.
5. OT Mickey Baucus, Sr.
Baucus is to the left side of the line what Fabbians Ebbele has been to the right. Baucus is a veteran of 38 career starts up front, a 6-8, 305-pound giant of a pocket protector, who'll use his long wingspan to keep pass rushers off his body. Over the past two seasons, Arizona has ranked second and first in the Pac-12 in sacks allowed. Ebbele's athleticism and light feet are central reasons why ‘Cats quarterbacks had so much time to throw in 2012 and 2013.
6. OT Fabbians Ebbele, Sr.
For one more year, right tackle in Tucson will be the domain of Ebbele, who has started 37 games for the Wildcats. The 6-8, 311-pound Chicago native has a ton of talent, but he still hasn't maximized all of his potential as a blocker. If Ebbele can fine-tune his game a little further in 2014, NFL scouts will find it difficult to overlook his size, long arms and footwork when protecting the pocket. He was half of the tackle bookend that helped Arizona lead the Pac-12 in sacks allowed.
7. WR Nate Phillips, Soph.
In his debut out of Basha (Ariz.) High School, Phillips turned out to be a shocking contributor for the Wildcats. The lightly-recruited 5-7, 177-pounder was an instant success out of the slot, catching a team-best 51 passes for 696 yards and seven touchdowns. While obviously undersized, he uses his darting quickness and sharp cuts to beat defenders to the open space on the field. Phillips was improving as his first season unfolded, abusing Boston College in the bowl game for nine receptions and 193 yards.
8. CB Jonathan McKnight, Sr.
McKnight is set to take over as the dean of the corners in Tucson now that Shaquille Richardson has used up his eligibility. The younger brother of former USC RB Joe McKnight has made a triumphant return from a serious knee injury suffered in 2011 to start 22 games over the past two seasons. The slender 5-11, 171-pounder is coming off his best season with the Wildcats, making 54 stops, two interceptions and a team-high eight pass breakups.
9. FS Jourdon Grandon, Sr.
Grandon brings 26 career starts, including 13 at free safety last year, to a secondary flush with experience and know-how. The fluid 6-0, 195-pounder has always had the requisite athleticism to excel at the Pac-12 level. But over the past year or two, he's evolved into a much smarter player and one of the leaders of the D. Grandon is looking to surpass last season's career year, in which he collected 73 stops, two interceptions and six pass breakups.
10. DE Reggie Gilbert, Sr.
Plenty is expected from Gilbert, the best returning pass rusher from a defense that finished ninth in Pac-12 sacks last year. He's a versatile and experienced lineman, who has started games at tackle and at end while in Tucson. On the outside in 2013, he had 34 tackles, seven stops for loss and four sacks as a 13-game starter. The 6-4, 261-pound Gilbert has the size and strength to overpower opposing blockers, yet he'll also get around the edge with a quick first step and an improving swim move.