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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Position Preview: Linebackers

Michelle A. Monroe
Michelle A. Monroe / Arizona Daily Wildcat The Arizona Wildcats lost to the Southern California Trojans 41-48, at the LA Colosieum.

In the 12 days leading up to the Wildcats’ season opener against Toledo on Sept. 1, the Daily Wildcat will preview each position on Arizona’s roster, alternating between offense and defense.

Projected starters: Jake Fischer (junior), Rob Hankins (sophomore), Hank Hobson (sophomore)
Backups: Greg Nwoko (senior), C.J. Dozier (freshman), Shadow Williams (freshman), Dakota Conwell (freshman), Keoni Bush-Loo (freshman)
Departures: Brian Wagner (left the team), Derek Earls (graduation), Paul Vassallo (NFL free agent), David Lopez (left the team)
Returning stat leaders: Fischer (2010) – 58 total tackles, two sacks, one fumble recovery; Hankins – 10 total tackles, Hobson – eight total tackles

One of Arizona’s thinnest positions, the linebacking corps, is a group fans should keep an eye on throughout the season. Apart from a lack of a pass rush from the defensive line, the linebackers and their inability to tackle was a major factor in the Wildcats’ 4-8 season. Now, the team lost their top two linebackers in Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls, Arizona’s top tacklers with a combined 144 tackles.

Brian Wagner is also out of the picture before he even played a down at the UA. Wagner, a senior transfer from Akron who was second in the nation in tackles last season with 147 in 11 games, was supposed to provide the Wildcats with a viable leader and a presence in the middle of the defense. Instead, Wagner left the team during the summer, telling the Tucson Citizen that he no longer had “love for the game.”

Jake Fischer, expected to be the leader of the defense and its best linebacker, hasn’t played a game in two years after sitting out 2011 with an ACL injury, and is undersized for the position at 5-foot-10.

Because of the lack of depth, Greg Nwoko, who has played fullback for three seasons, switched to the defensive side of the ball to provide Arizona with a bigger body without losing any speed. Nwoko has been held out of practice recently with a leg injury, but when he returns he will be a full-time linebacker.

Sophomores Hank Hobson and Rob Hankins, both with a few starts under their belts from their freshman campaigns, are in a position to make noise in a defense that defensive coaches have described as controlled chaos.

In a recent scrimmage, Shadow Williams, a walk-on freshman, started at linebacker due to the lack of depth and left his mark on the game, recording half of a sack.

Keoni Bush-Loo, recruited out of Hawaii to the UA as a tight end, also switched over to the defensive side of the ball and will likely see time at both defensive end and linebacker.

The lack of depth coupled with the injury history of Nwoko and Fischer means that Williams and Dozier could see significant playing time, especially against fast-paced, talented teams like Oregon and USC. Inexperience is the name of the game at linebacker, and a main reason why the defense might struggle this year.

Grade: C-

Next Up: Running backs

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