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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Position Preview: Defensive Line

Will Ferguson
Will Ferguson / Arizona Daily Wildcat The Oregon Ducks beat Sione Tuihalamaka, No. 91, and the Arizona Wildcats 56-31 during a Saturday, Sept. 24 match at the UA football stadium in Tucson, Arizona.

In the five 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: NT Sione Tuihalamaka (junior), DE Dominique Austin (senior), DT Chris Merrill (senior)

Backups: Tevin Hood (junior), Willie Mobley (senior), Reggie Gilbert (sophomore), Kirifi Taula (sophomore), Dan Pettinato (sophomore), Jowyn Ward (senior), Kyle Kelley (freshman), Taimi Tutogi (senior), Keoni Bush-Loo (freshman)

Departures: C.J. Parish (graduated), Mohammed Usman (graduated), Aiulua Fanene (graduated), Sani Fuimaono (graduated)

Returning stat leaders: Tuihalamaka— 16 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 14 starts; Taula— 17 tackles, 4 TFL, 4 starts; Dan Pettinato— 12 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 3 starts; Ward 7.5 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 3 starts

The Wildcats’ defense lacks depth throughout the roster, but the one position where it’s most lacking is the defensive line. And this isn’t a new problem for Arizona — it had the second fewest sacks in the nation last year with just 10.

Defensive end C.J. Parish graduated and took with him his team-high three sacks, and as a team, Arizona’s returning defensive-line only had five total sacks last season.

Injuries and suspensions haven’t helped the cause. For now, end Justin Washington is suspended and not with the team. Washington was a breakout star his freshman year, but he regressed last season and, according to head coach Rich Rodriguez, has some things to do before he can return to the team. The line is bringing back nose tackle Sione Tuihalamaka, who is a nice fit in the new 3-3-5 “odd stack” system.

Injures have also hit the line hard. Both Kirifi Taula and Dan Pettinato, expected to be starters, have been banged up during practice, and the two sophomores bring the most experience outside of Tuihalamaka with their seven combined starts last season.

For at least the game against Toledo, seniors Dominique Austin and Chris Merrill will start at the two ends. The two seniors have one career start between them. Rodriguez said he’s planning on using several players on the line Saturday, so there may be a rotation at the two spots.

The 3-3-5 scheme is designed to bring blitzes from all over the field, so the Wildcats should put more pressure on the quarterback this season. But having linebackers and corners sacking the quarterback doesn’t translate to having better defensive line, and it will again be a weakness for the team.

The greatest example of the defensive line’s state of flux is that the coaches have resorted to making fullback Taimi Tutogi play both ways, something the senior hasn’t done since high school.

Grade: D

Up Next: Quarterbacks

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