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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

New class revitalizes Rodriguez’s defense

Arizona+safety+Paul+Magloire+Jr.+%2814%29+drags+down+a+Washington+State+running+back+at+Arizona+Stadium+on+Oct.+24%2C+2015.+The+Wildcats+improved+their+secondary+during+Signing+Day+2016.+
Tyler Baker
Arizona safety Paul Magloire Jr. (14) drags down a Washington State running back at Arizona Stadium on Oct. 24, 2015. The Wildcats improved their secondary during Signing Day 2016.

There’s no question whether Arizona’s defense took a major step backward last season. With the 2016 recruits putting their names in ink on the national letter of intent Wednesday, Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez signed a defensive-heavy class, especially throughout the secondary.

With so many lengthy defensive backs bringing their talents to Tucson, the mastermind of Rodriguez might have just switched from offense to defense.

Rodriguez could also be kissing the feet of newly hired defensive coordinator Marcel Yates for making a splash on the recruiting trail. The Yates-Rodriguez duo has already been impressive, considering the two had less than a month to string together something positive out of this season’s class.

Yates will be introducing a potential 4-2-5 defense that he used at Boise State.

Just because there’s another pass rusher on the line, the secondary still remains intact in terms of positioning in different coverage sets.

Sometimes, a safety can creep up and blitz off the edge, which is what was shown with Paul Magloire Jr. and Tellas Jones last season.

Fortunately for Rodriguez, those two are returning for another season, but both lack girth. With a safety-linebacker hybrid like Magloire, Rodriguez could focus on his size. The defense needed size in the secondary and that proved to be Arizona’s primary focus on national signing day.

“We had to get bigger and more athletic and we did that,” Rodriguez said.

The Wildcats signed four safeties, all of whom are taller than 6-feet and weigh more than 180 pounds.

This may not seem like an upgrade, but Rodriguez is bringing in physical projects that could benefit the defense in the future. Three-star safeties Jarrius Wallace, Gavin Robertson and Chacho Ulloa, who flipped from Stanford, resemble the same physicality as Will Parks in the sense of not being afraid to lower the shoulder and bring the boom.

One safety that Rodriguez admired in Wednesday’s press conference was two-star safety Tristan Cooper. The El Paso, Texas, native finished his high school career with 212 tackles and six interceptions. Cooper is relentless and not afraid to make the play, even if it means taking physicality to another level. In fact, Rodriguez may have a two-star ball hawk version of Scooby Wright III on his hands.

“He’s a physical safety and you can tell a little bit on the film on who wants the tackle and who’s a willing tackler,” Rodriguez said. “I want to have safeties that I can say ‘whoa’ to and we’ve had safeties like that in the past, but not enough. If you watch the film on Cooper, and Robertson, and Jarrius Wallace and Chacho, those are some safeties that’ll be pretty aggressive.”

There lies a problem with so many safeties coming in: someone will have to be willing to adapt to other positions. That’s also a winning situation for Rodriguez because now there will be insurance. If the injury bug hits the defense like it did last season, Arizona will have options.

“If you have taller and more athletic guys, they usually can cover more ground,” Rodriguez said. “Those guys can grow into playing other positions and that’s the biggest thing for us is that we have to have the ability to have guys being multiple positional players. A safety growing into a backer, a backer growing into a d-end, a corner growing into a safety that way we have more options and there’s a larger margin of error.”

Arizona has enough talent returning to thrive in the pass-happy Pac-12 Conference, but adding physical defensive backs with size will not only test the offense in practice, but push the current players to reach heights that can give the defense a true identity for the future.

Welcome back, Arizona Desert Swarm.

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