"I don't see 22 returning all-Big Ten players," Fitzgerald said in a frank media session Thursday. "I think there's a ton of work to do."
The first--and most obvious--shift was moving former safety Jimmy Hall to outside linebacker in a full-time role.
Despite Hall playing some linebacker, even during the 2013 Gator Bowl win, this was an unexpected move from the coaching staff. The Wildcats have some depth at the position, with Drew Smith, Jaylen Prater and redshirt freshmen including Brett Walsh considered capable backups.
Still, it often seemed as though Fitzgerald and defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz struggled to work Hall into the rotation. That led to a dramatic move--one that should set the tone for an offseason filled with personnel adjustments.
"We're trying to get our best 11 on the field at all times," Fitzgerald said. "[Hall]'s always been in that mix... We're trying to get as much competition at every position as we can."
It's not just that: Drills are beginning to indicate that Hall has the inside track to the starter's role. Though Fitzgerald would never hint at any favorites--it is, admittedly, early--Hall and Drew Smith are locked in a position battle.
This marks a striking shift, one only made possible by Hall's ability. The senior looks to finally make a significant impact, and that never would have arrived at the safety spot. Traveon Henry and Ibraheim Campbell are the long term starters, with Godwin Igwebuike and perhaps Kyle Queiro adding important depth.
"We'll see how things progress," Fitzgerald said. "I really like [Hall]'s athletic skillset... Two days in, without having to tackle anyone, he's done a nice job."
Everything was set in motion, though, by departing senior Damien Proby. He'll be difficult to replace, but thankfully, Ellis had the necessary experience to fill in the middle.
"He was everyone's big brother," Ariguzo said of Proby. "Everybody misses him. At the same time, we've got a lot of people who can step up. He'll be missed, but it's a new team."
New team is right. With changes to positions, starters and style, Fitzgerald continues to step away from the season everyone wants to forget.