Arizona's secondary was easily the one of the worst units for the Wildcats in 2012 and was a main reason for the defense's problems. Overall, the secondary allowed 3,807 passing yards and 25 passing touchdowns. It allowed 12.3 yards per catch and nearly 300 yards through the air each game.
The good news for the Wildcats is that they are only losing one player to graduation and have plenty of young players returning and a few skilled recruits coming into the program.
Senior safety Mark Watley has graduated and used up his eligibility. He was an instrumental upperclassman in Head Coach Rich Rodriguez's first season at Arizona, teaching the younger players the proper way to do things and leading offseason workouts for the defense. Watley finished the season with four tackles and a pass breakup in twelve games.
The Wildcats are returning several younger players, including the secondary's leading tackler Jared Tevis. The junior started the season as a walk-on, but has since earned a scholarship. Tevis worked his way up the depth chart in spring and fall camp, earning starts in all, but two games during the year. He missed two games during the season due to an ankle injury, but Tevis racked up 82 total tackles, intercepted two passes, and forced four fumbles on the season. He could have been in the running for the team's leading tackler if not for his injury. Tra'Mayne Bondurant – The junior had some breakout games in his freshman season and built off of that in his second campaign. Bondurant was one of the better defensive players and his numbers show why. He had 74 tackles on the year, combined with two interceptions and seven pass breakups. Bondurant will be a keystone of the secondary in the next two years.
Shaquille Richardson – Despite being picked on by opposing quarterbacks for most of the year, Richardson managed to finish fifth in the team with 58 tackles. He did finish the year strong, intercepting a long ball from Cody Fajardo in the bowl victory over Nevada, but struggled mightily at times throughout the season. Richardson had a team-high fourteen pass breakups, but that can be attributed to the amount of times he was thrown at. The senior will have to make big leaps in the offseason if he expects to fend off the competition come next fall.
Jourdon Grandon – The junior had up and down games throughout the season, but it was only his second season. Grandon has been impressive in his first two years and had bright moments throughout the year, with twelve tackles against Oregon State and an interception against Washington. He should compete for a starting spot if he continues to improve.
Jonathan McKnight – The junior had a great season in the secondary. Recovering from an ACL tear that kept him out all of last season, McKnight was one of the top performers on defense. He had three interceptions on the year, tying Marquis Flowers for the team lead. McKnight also had 52 tackles and four pass breakups. Even though he had a setback, his recovery and performance this season is promising for the next few years.
Who's gone: Mark Watley (graduated)
Who's back: Marquis Flowers (senior), Jourdon Grandon (junior), Bryan Harper (freshman), Jonathan McKnight (junior), Brendan Murphy (senior), Derrick Rainey (senior), Shaquille Richardson (senior), Justin Samuels (senior), Shane Wilson (freshman), Jamar Allah (sophomore), William Parks (sophomore), Tra'Mayne Bondurant (junior), Blake Brady (junior), Wayne Capers Jr. (sophomore), Clint Cochrane (freshman), Vince Miles (sophomore), Patrick Onwuasor (sophomore), Yamen Sanders (freshman), Zach Streuling (freshman), Jared Tevis (junior).
Outlook: With the returning players, the secondary should be much improved in the coming season. Marquis Flowers could be back from his stint as a linebacker and will bring some much-needed talent and experience to the secondary. He had three interceptions this season playing out of position and should be even better when he is back in a comfortable position.
There are plenty of talented players that will be competing for playing time. Patrick Onwausor, Wayne Capers Jr., Jamar Allah, and Vince Miles are all sophomores that saw action in some form this season. While they weren't on the radar at the beginning of the season, they slowly worked their way into the picture and got on the field. Each of them, except for Allah, earned a starting nod at one point during the season, showing promise for the youngsters.
In addition, Arizona will welcome four new secondary players in the fall, including four-star cornerback Derek Babiash. The incoming freshman should compete for playing time immediately. His 6-foot-1 frame and his speed complement his style of play and should allow for him to see the field early in his career.
Two other incoming recruits that should compete right away are Devin Holiday and Prince Holloway. Holiday is a solid defender and speed, which allowed him to return many interceptions for touchdowns in his high school career.
Figuring he is still headed to Arizona, Holloway is a junior college transfer who is coming with some experience under his belt. He was lightly recruited, but brings extraordinary speed to the secondary. It will be hard to keep him off the field as long as he can learn the system quickly.
The Wildcats' defense should be greatly improved overall in Rodriguez's second year. The secondary should be much faster and more experienced and with some of the younger players improving and learning the system, it will be harder for some of the older players to keep their spots. Either way, it should be more difficult for opposing quarterbacks to throw against Arizona next season.