For the Wildcats’ defense in 2020, it’s ‘next man up’


Caleb Villegas

Bryson Cain (54) making a tackle at Arizona Stadium on Saturday September 28, 2019 in Tucson Ariz. Arizona held on to beat UCLA 20-17.

Ryan Wohl

After the Arizona Wildcats lost two of their best defensive players from a season ago, defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads is taking the “next man up” mentality moving forward.

“You don’t scrap the scheme and shift to do something else, but you see what you can do with the personnel that is available to you,” Rhoads said. “At the same time, we are figuring out what everybody’s capable of.”

Since the Wildcats are only three practices into the start of fall camp, the team is still far away from knowing who is going to play what position, as well as what the best fit for this defense is.

“We are going to have to feel the team. We’re getting them all ready and we’ll see come Nov. 7 who we can be effective with,” Rhoads said.

Being less than a month away from the season, that might be a bit concerning to hear the leader of the Wildcats’ defense say about his group. For an already weak defensive core, shorter time to practice and not a lot of days until their first game is not a good sign for this team.

Rhoads stressed how impressed he has been with his young defensive linemen and linebackers, specifically freshman linebacker Derek Mourning.

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“He’s our healthy one at inside linebacker and I’ve been pleased with his three days of work,” Rhoads said.

Rhoads said he believes this defense will take time to grow throughout the season as he continued to preach the phrase “it’s early.”

A player that everyone has been raving about since the start of fall camp has been Anthony Pandy, who has since taken on the new leadership role of the team after the departures of Tony Fields II and Colin Schooler.

“I’m playing more of the [linebacker position] and calling the shots on defense,” Pandy said. “Since they left, I realized I have to step up a lot more and set the example and teach the freshman what [Schooler] and [Fields] have taught me.”

Pandy understands the hole he has to fill this upcoming season, as he will take the majority of snaps for the linebacker group.

Pandy started in eight of the 12 games in 2019 while not missing a game in his junior season. He finished third on the team in total tackles with 66 and also increased all of his individual defensive stats from the previous two seasons. Pandy has racked up a ton of experience as he has only missed two games in his first three years in Tucson, making him the perfect fit to lead this young defense.

“I’m trying to teach them what I know about assignments, pre-snap, how I study film, how I work out and my eating habits,” Pandy said.

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