Newcomers a welcome relief for Arizona linebacker corps
SEP 03, 2013 7:45p ET
It says a lot about the freshman and his ability and says just as much for the quality and depth the Wildcats need at the position.
Last year, Arizona's linebackers were gasping for air by the end of the year -- overworked and, often, outplayed.
This year is yet to be determined, but one thing is certain: Arizona is better equipped at the linebacker spot.
"We’re deeper just because of the freshman class," said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Scooby Wright, Derrick Turituri, DeAndre’ Miller and Jake Matthews have given us some depth there that we didn’t have last year."
That alone brings a sigh of relief to all involved -- even to those who love to play the game. Being on the field for 90-plus snaps isn't easy -- no matter what shape you're in.
"Last year we had a few games where we (played) over 100 plays, and this year we have back-ups. This year we have twos and threes and depth," said UA senior leader Jake Fischer, one of the premier linebackers in the Pac-12.
Against Northern Arizona, Arizona's group played well enough, but they will have to continue to step it up as the season progresses. Three of the group were among the top four tacklers in 35-0 win: Fischer had seven; Wright and senior Marquis Flowers each had six tackles.
Throw in sophomore Keoni Bush-Loo, junior Hank Hobson and sophomore Sir Thomas Jackson and the other freshmen and it's a host of capable players.
"They brought in some great guys," said Flowers. "We definitely have depth. I know last year in the first game I played, I played close to 100 plays. This time I played about 60 snaps. It's a big difference and helps us a lot."
It makes for a more comfortable Rodriguez, at least compared to last year, when Arizona was at the bottom of the conference in most defensive categories.
"The guys who are returning have a year in the system, so they should be better," Rodriguez said. "More than anything we have more guys to play."
"We've got a whole lot of challenges moving forward, so we're going to need a whole bunch of guys to be ready to play. We're not ready yet."
He does get some comfort in Wright, who has established himself quickly.
Rodriguez said Wright has good instincts and is a fast-learner.
"He's just a good football player," Rodriguez said. "I think he would like to play both ways. He does anything you ask him to do, whether its rush the passer, blitz, cover someone; he’d be a fullback if you asked him. He’s a true football player. He’s learned pretty well. Sometimes we have to sit back and realize he’s a true freshman."
Said Fischer: "He's 100 miles per hour 100 percent of the time. That can get you in trouble every now and again, but if you go 100 percent all the time, you can make plays."
Wright has made that unit better because of it. Among those who are trying to follow his lead is Bush-Loo, another young player with exciting potential.
"He’s a year older. I think last year he played before he was ready," Rodriguez said. "He understands what we’re doing better, and he had a really good fall camp. I think his play has been elevated because we have Scooby Wright and Derrick Turituri right there behind him.”