Defense still improving

Arizona is hoping to improve on a defense that was last in the league last season. Read on to find out how freshmen are helping the defense, what scheme changes have been made, and more.

The Arizona Wildcats were not good on defense in Rich Rodriguez's first year in Tucson. Many things can be attributed to this: a new system, under-conditioned players, and a lack of depth.

The last may have been the most detrimental to the team. In the season opener against Toledo in 2012, Arizona played all three linebackers in just about every single play. With added depth, Rodriguez hopes to change that.

"The guys returning have played a year in this defense, so they should be good," Rodriguez said. "More than anything, we should have more guys to play this year. We shouldn't be playing guys for 105 plays."

Rodriguez isn't the only one that is happy to have some depth on defense. Senior linebacker Marquis Flowers made the switch from the secondary to the linebacker corps last season and was called on to play all game immediately.

"We have some great guys on defense," Flowers said. "Me, Scooby (Wright), DeAndre (Miller), Derek (Turituri), and then you have Jake (Fischer) and Hank Hobson, so that's already two deep right there. We also have Sir Thomas Jackson who can come in and play, so we definitely have depth.

"I know last year in the first game I probably played every play, which was close to 100 snaps. This year out of the 89 snaps, I probably played 60, so it's a big difference and I think that helps us a lot."

One player that has burst on the scene to help the defense has been true freshman linebacker Scooby Wright, who was third on the team in tackles in the NAU game, including a tackle for loss. He also tipped a pass that was eventually intercepted by Tra'Mayne Bondurant.

"Scooby weighs around 235 pounds," Rodriguez said. "He's got good strength, good instincts, and is a fast learner. He's a tough guy.

"To play linebacker as a freshman, and there is a lot going on at that position in our scheme, and to start as a freshman in the first game says a lot about him."

Senior linebacker Jake Fischer was coming off a redshirt season heading into the first game of 2012. He was thrown into the mix with Flowers and stayed on the field every time the opponent had the ball. With the added depth, he was able to take a breath or two on the sidelines.

"Last year, we had a few games where we played over 100 plays and we didn't have any back up, but this year we have depth," Fischer said. "It's kind of hard to predict what the other team is going to do on second downs, so holding them to minimal yards on first downs and getting stops on third downs helps keep the play count down."

In addition to having extra depth, the defense has been working on a special package that should cut down on defensive plays. The SWAT defense is intended to help the defense capitalize on third down situations and get the offense back on the field.

"When they first told us about SWAT, we all got excited," Flowers said. "I like it, it's a third down defense that is going to help us get off the field. What made us play a lot of plays last year was that we couldn't get off the field on third down.

"This year that's more of a focal point. We messed up on some third downs last game, but against UNLV we need to get off the field, and not just against UNLV, but for the rest of the season."

So what is the SWAT defense?

"If you get them in obvious passing situations, you can bring in an extra defensive back," Fischer said. "You can have a few guys go all out trying to get to the quarterback to flush him out and have a guy spy on the quarterback, bring in an extra rusher, and then have the extra defensive back in the game.

"If we get them in obvious long passing situations, it's a very good defense."

With the defense playing well in the opener, it is no secret that the players feel like they have something to prove. Even though they would like to surprise opposing teams, there are still improvements that need to be made.

"We played pretty decent on defense, but there are definitely a lot of things we need to correct," Fischer said. "Watching the first half yesterday, we made a ton of mistakes that we need to fix by the time we play UNLV."

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