Best Case/Worst Case: Defense

Arizona's defense should be a strength this season. While there are some new faces, there is plenty of potential. Here is a look at the best and worst possible outcomes for the defensive side of the ball.

Fall camp is right around the corner, which means the Arizona Wildcats will begin the process of sorting out their roster in preparation for the 2011 season. There is still a lot to be determined on the depth chart as there will be position battles taking place across the board.

With that start of the campaign steadily approaching, we take a look at the possibilities on the defensive side of the ball.

Defensive Line

Best case scenario

Mohammad Usman and C.J. Parish play beyond expectations and pick up the slack for the departed Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore. Justin Washington continues to pick up where he left off in 2010, where he was one of the best defensive freshmen in the Pac-10. Sione Tuihalamaka starts alongside Washington and the duo provides provide consistent pressure in the backfield against both the run and the pass.

Worst case scenario

Usman and Parish struggle to adjust to full-time roles at defensive and don't provide the defense with the type of pass-rushing required to be successful.

Washington suffers a sophomore slump and Tuihalamaka fails to hold onto to a starting job due to a lack of consistency. Backups such as Jowyn Ward, Kirifi Taula and others fail to provide ample support and the line, as a whole, becomes a weakness.

Most likely to happen

Usman and Parish play well, but not well enough to match the production that Reed and Elmore provided. They bring a decent amount of pass-rushing, but their inexperience shows often. Washington continues to develop into one of the best defensive tackles in the conference and Tuihalamaka is a serviceable starter all season. The line, as a group, is adequate but a level below where it has been in recent seasons.

Linebackers

Best case Scenario

Both Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo are named All-Pac-12 linebackers while newcomer David Lopez makes a smooth transition to the NCAA level and makes up for the loss of Jake Fischer to injury. Fischer is somehow able to return to action earlier than originally thought and UA also utilizes the nickel successfully. Rob Hankins, Hank Hobson and Dominique Petties are all able to redshirt and develop for another season before hitting the field for real.

Worst case scenario

Earls and Vassallo play solidly, but not up to par and the linebacking unit becomes a weakness. Lopez has trouble adjusting to the new level of play and Fischer misses the entire season. Hankins, Hobson and Petties are all forced into action and show the typical struggles most freshmen display. UA attempts to run the nickel, but none of the defensive backs play well close to the line of scrimmage.

Most likely to happen

Earls and Vassallo develop into the leaders of the defense, but ultimately, the rest of the linebackers are inconsistent. Lopez transitions well to Pac-12, but not the level of where Earls and Vassallo were when they arrived in 2010. Fischer attempts to come back late in the season and one or two of the freshman out of Hankins, Hobson and Petties see the field while the other two redshirt.

Defensive Backs

Best case scenario

Adam Hall recovers much earlier than predicted and plays at a high level for most of the year. Marquis Flowers develops into the next great safety in college football. Robert Golden displays a versatile style of football, playing both safety and cornerback at a high level.

Trevin Wade returns to being a Thorpe Award candidate while other players such as Shaquille Richardson, Jonathan McKnight and Josh Robbins all step up and vault UA's defensive backfield into one of the top units in the Pac-12.

Worst case scenario

Hall misses the entire season, which puts more pressure on the rest of the secondary. Golden stays at safety, but struggles due to the constant flip-flopping of positions. Flowers falls short of the hype.

Wade continues to show the same struggles he had a season ago, while Richardson, McKnight and Robbins are all figured out by opposing offensive coordinators. The secondary struggles mightily and the lack of pass-rushing makes it a lot worse.

Most likely to happen

Hall makes a return sometime during the middle of the season and fills a void that was hurting the defense. Flowers continues to improve and is a force by the end of the season. Golden performs well at safety and is utilized at multiple positions once Hall returns.

Wade proves that his junior year was down due to nothing more than injuries and has a very strong senior campaign. Richardson and McKnight step their games up from a season ago; Richardson starts to move his way into the upper-echelon of corners in the conference. McKnight and Robbins provide solid depth.


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