One positive sign is the return of the leading tackler on the Wildcats, Paul Vassallo. The senior was one of the best in the conference last season at wrapping up the ball carrier and should be one of the more reliable players UA possesses on that side of the ball in the upcoming season.
The linebacker isn't as concerned as everyone else is with the lack of depth at the position, mainly because UA only fielded a handful of players there a season ago.
"Well last year only four of us really played," Vassallo said. "So it's not like we had a lot of depth as it was last year. It may have just been more experienced depth just because we are all a little older, but this year with the young guys coming, they may be a little bit younger, but we're going to have to get them up to speed really fast."
A big blow to the defense this offseason was the injury to 2010 starting linebacker Jake Fischer. The junior's status is up in the air at currently and his absence could be detrimental to the linebacker corps. Vassallo knows it's not going to be easy to replace Fischer, but is it going to be a blow to the rest of the defense to not have him on the field?
"A little bit," Vassallo said. "It sucks to see him there. I got used to him being there and just doing everything; working out with him. It has changed a few things with how we approach things because he was a big part of our defense."
One player that head coach Mike Stoops brought in late in the 2011 class is JUCO linebacker David Lopez. Vassallo can relate to the transition Lopez is making, but believes he has the added benefit of having two experienced players lining up with him in the same unit and is confident with how he is adapting to the higher level of play.
"Really well," Vassallo said. "I think he came into a position that may have been a little bit better for him coming in early and succeeding than Derek and I did last year because we know the system and we're trying to do everything we can to help him and get him up to speed. For Derek (Earls) and I last year, we kind of just had to learn it and wing it out there sometimes."
In the past, Stoops has been known to adjust his defense according to the talent on the roster. With limited linebacker resources, the defense could often feature an extra defensive back on the field in nickel packages. Vassallo is happy with the progress of the players taking on that role and believes they are more than capable of taking care of business.
"Jourdon Grandon is taking those snaps and I think Shaq has taken some as well," Vassallo said. "They know that they need to come in and fill the gap every once in a while and play the run, but we're definitely confident in those guys though. They can do the job."
While there may be a missing link at the linebacker position, there are two returning players that were highly productive there a season ago. With both himself and Earls back for one more campaign, Vassallo is happy with the state of position going into 2011.
"Good," Vassallo said. "I feel as if we can keep up with our offense then we will be ok. Because with all the weapons we have on our offense, if we can keep up with them, we will be fine."