Entering the 2007 football season the Wildcats will show perhaps their deepest and most talented defensive tackles unit since their 12-1 squad that beat Nebraska in the 1998 Holiday Bowl. Names like Yaniv Barnett and Lionel Dotson have been around and heard from for the past few years but there are a couple of relatively unknowns at the position that could make or break the defensive interior for the Cats in 2007.
Converted defensive end Donald Horton has red shirted, played the 3-technique tackle spot and has now moved over to the crucial nose guard position. In spot duty a year ago Horton had 5 tackles and forced one fumble in 8 games, including one start. Horton will be backing up the senior Yaniv Barnett, who has been a mainstay at the nose guard spot for the past three seasons.
Barnett has had an up and down career as a Wildcat but has been relatively consistent in his play when healthy. In his 25 career games he has amassed 50 tackles, five tackles for loss, one and half sacks and has recovered one fumble. Yaniv may be the key to the run stopping efforts of the Cats in 2007, if he can stay health and produce at a very high level then the Cats should be able to slow the run enough to allow their talented corps of pass rushers to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
Another name to keep an ear out for is incoming true freshman Kaniela Tuipulotu from Hawaii. Tuipulotu comes to Tucson as possibly the most highly regarded defensive tackle signee the Cats have had in a decade. His athleticism and strength gives him the versatility to play either spot on the interior of the line but to start his career he will be playing the three behind senior Lionel Dotson. At 6-foot-2 inches and around the 280 pound mark, Tuipulotu could be called upon to play up to 40 plays a game as a true freshman this season.
Dotson, a fifth year senior, is another converted defensive end that has really come into his own as a defensive tackle. Thanks to an incredible work ethic, Dotson has positioned himself for a possible all conference run in his senior year. In 28 career games as a Cat Lionel has totaled 71 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and has recovered two fumbles while forcing another. Since he is a converted end, Dotson has the versatility to rush the passer from the interior of the line and has developed the patience to be a force in run support. The key for Dotson in 2007 will be to tutor the younger players and to stay healthy as his leadership and experience needs to be on the field as much as possible.
Mana Mikaele red shirted in 2006 out of high school in Hawaii and he will be in the mix at the nose guard spot as well. Mana is known for his tenacity and strength inside. He was impressive on the scout teams during his red shirt campaign in playing against the starting Wildcat offensive line week in and week out.
Walk on Dave Bertrand has been an able performer in a back up role for his first two seasons on campus. Playing both interior spots, Bertrand has totaled 7 tackles. The Wildcats will not be calling on him to do much more than spelling the mainstays for around 15 plays each and every week. Bertrand simply needs to continue to do what he has done, play hard and well enough to give rest to the first two tiers of the depth chart.
Incoming freshman Hans Philipp comes to Arizona on the heels of his brother, Paul. Hans earned a scholarship offer at the UA's Elite Camp thanks to an impressive performance that included knocking down USC freshman offensive lineman Kristofer O'Dowd not once, but twice. Philipp will most likely red shirt in 2007 to continue to get healthy and gain strength.
Another walk on, John Markovich, could be called upon for additional depth purposes and he has the ability to play the nose or the three technique spot. Markovich has no experience beyond the scout team but if injuries occur with any frequency he could see the field and play a role in 2007.
To be very successful as a defense in 2007 the Wildcats absolutely need to do a better job of stopping the run. In 2006 they were up and down in their run defense and they need to provide consistency in their ability to stop the opposing rush. If the Wildcats can gain that much needed consistency it will allow the defense to blitz more and take more chance with their pass rush specialists on the outside. The defensive tackles are going to be key for the Cats in '07 and tackles coach Mike Tuiasosopo should be sporting an ear to ear grin since he now has the athletes AND the depth to get that consistent play.
Yaniv Barnett, Senior
Lolomana Mikaele, RS Freshman
Dave Bertrand, Junior
Lionel Dotson, RS Senior
Donald Horton, RS Sophomore
Kaniela Tuipulotu, Freshman
Hans Philipp, Freshman
John Markovich, Senior