Consistently ranked towards the bottom of the statistical rankings in virtually every category on a national level, the Wildcats struggled to adjust to defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 system.
Injuries were a big problem on the defensive side of the ball for UA as it was forced to use numerous walk-ons in prominent roles.
Experience was lacking in most areas, but one player who did not have that problem was linebacker Jake Fischer. As a junior, Fischer had a solid season in which he led the team in total tackles with 119 with 6.5 coming behind the line of scrimmage.
As a senior, Fischer understands that Casteel is looking for him to be more vocal, which is an area he believes he has improved in.
"He's looking for more of a leader," Fischer said. "I used to lead by example, but I have to be more vocal and I think I have progressed in that area. I still need to get better at it.
"When I am not out there and on the sidelines, I have to teach them what they did wrong and what they need to get better at. I've watched film with a couple of guys when they wanted to. If they need me I have to be there for them, so I'm just trying to be the old guy and help them out."
Last off-season, the Wildcats looked completely lost on the defensive side of the ball. The transition between systems was rough and it didn't help that the injury bug decimated the unit. By the time the season rolled around, UA's defense was facing an uphill climb with all of the injuries and uncertainty.
Fast-forward a year later and Fischer already sees plenty of progress. He knows that while there is still plenty of work to do, the unit looks much better than it did just 12 months prior.
"It's night and day," Fischer said. "Last spring we were all still learning everything. We were running around and didn't look like a unit at all.
"This spring we still have guys that are messing up, young guys, but I think we look a lot better. There are still a lot of things we can do better at, but overall it's night and day."
Another area where Fischer believes the team is better prepared is in the strength and conditioning department.
In the spring of 2012, head coach Rich Rodriguez seemed to catch the Wildcats off guard with his intense, non-stop practices. After a year of playing under Rodriguez, however, Fischer and his teammates are now much more prepared to handle Rodriguez's practice style.
"We know what to expect," Fischer said. "We're still not in the best shape, but we look a lot better than we did last year and by the time summer rolls around, we're going to be getting through these practices fine and that's going to help us out leading into the games. I can't wait to see the finished product."
As a linebacker and one of the defensive unit's leaders, Fischer has had the opportunity to help guide some of the younger talent.
The soon-to-be senior has noticed a lot of improvement from one of his fellow linebackers in Sir Thomas Jackson and believes he has progressed more than anyone else on the defense.
"I'm happy for Sir T," Fischer said. "He's progressed probably more than any of the other linebackers since last year. The freshmen have as well, but Sir T works his tail off.
"There are still a lot of things he knows he's got to improve on, but he comes out here every day with a good attitude and ready to work. You can tell he's starting to get more comfortable, especially when he drops into coverage. I'm proud of the way he's working."
While Fischer believes there is plenty to be excited about in the upcoming campaign, he admits that the defense still has a lot of progress to make, no matter who sees the field.
"We have to get everybody on the same page," Fischer said. "We have to get everybody healthy. We have to get depth.
It doesn't matter if walk-ons are playing, if everybody does their job you are going to have a great chance to stop an offense, no matter how good they are."