Spring practice is right around the corner and the Arizona Wildcats football squad is facing an offseason full of questions and concerns. UA finished the season on a long, downward spiral and is looking to move on from that and start preparing for the 2011 season.
The biggest concern on the defensive side of the ball is just how the Wildcats will address the defensive end position. Gone are arguably the best tandem in the conference in Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore -- two players that are going to be very difficult to replace.
For the past three years, Elmore and Reed have wrecked havoc on opposing offensive lines with their athleticism and ability to put pressure on the quarterback. What those two brought to the table made life much easier for the rest of the defense. UA's pass defense struggled in spots this past year, but when it was successful it was directly attributed to the performance of Reed and Elmore more often than not.
Arizona must now find two players that are capable of stepping up into a starter's role. Soon-to-be senior Mohammad Usman could be the best bet to win a starting job in 2011. He was forced to sit out most of the 2010 season, but was productive in limited action when he was able to play late in the season. Usman recorded two tackles and blocked a kick in three games.
At 6-foot-4, 240-pounds, Usman has the size to play end at the Pac-10 level. There was plenty of hype surrounding him during fall practice last year, so the hope is that Usman can at least pick up some of the slack left behind by Elmore and Reed.
Dan Pettinato could also be in the mix for playing time. After redshirting in 2010, Pettinato will be given every opportunity to earn his way onto the field in 2011. He's a little raw, but with added size and more reps he could develop into a very good player. At 6-foot-4, he has the ideal height to play end, but was only listed at 225 pounds last year. If he has added the proper amount of muscle without losing his speed off the end, he will see time in 2011.
The rest of the defensive ends are a group of unknowns at this point in time. JUCO transfer Lamar De Rego already has the body of a Pac-12 defensive end at 6-foot-3, 250-pounds. He also has a fast motor and lined up at linebacker at the junior college level at times. Arizona found two pretty good players at linebacker from the JUCO level in the 2010 class, so the hope is the Wildcats continue that trend at the defensive end position with De Rego.
Another player that is a bit raw, but the staff really likes is Dame Ndiaye. A former basketball player, Ndiaye was extremely productive on the football field in his only year playing on the gridiron. The product of San Diego collected 36 tackles, seven sacks, blocked three kicks, forced three fumbles and recovered one.
Ndiaye's successful basketball background almost assures he is one of the more athletic players from the 2011 class. If he is able to adjust quickly to the college game and add enough muscle, he may be in line for some serious playing time. His lack of experience and current size could hinder him early, but his success in just one season of play has many believing he is a quick learner when it comes to football.
Reggie Gilbert is another newcomer to the roster. At 6-foot-3, 240-pounds, he has a pretty good frame on him already. He had a huge senior year at with 58 tackles, 13 sacks and two forced fumbles. The lack of depth could allow Gilbert to play as a freshman depending on how he performs in practice when he arrives this summer.
There is also the possibility of an interior defensive lineman switching to end. Last offseason there was talk of Sione Tuihalamaka moving to defensive end, but when fall camp arrived he was still at defensive tackle. Whether or not he is transitioned is to be determined, but if the staff is looking to switch some players to accommodate the lack of depth at end, Tuihalamaka could ultimately be a candidate.
There could be other players that slide over to the outside of the defensive line, but we will have to wait until both spring and fall camps arrive in order to determine just who may be up for changing positions.
Defensive end stands as nothing more than a big, fat question mark for now. While there is plenty of athleticism and potential there, this group of defensive ends is littered with players that lack experience and they are being asked to replace two All-Pac-10 performers.
Head coach Mike Stoops has found ways to solve his biggest question marks on defense in the past, so there is faith in the fact he can get relatively good production from the defensive end position in 2011.
Evaluating the Roster: Defensive End
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