Over the next week, Zona Zealots will be previewing the Arizona Wildcats’ 2013 roster in advance of their season opener against NAU on Aug. 30 (For the full list of position previews, click here).
RSr. Sione Tuihalamaka (Hawthorne, Calif./Serra), RSr. Justin Washington (Cypress, Texas/Cypress Woods), Sr. Tevin Hood (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton/Duke/University of San Diego), RJr. Dan Pettinato (Grass Valley, Calif./Nevada Union), RJr. Kirifi Taula (Garden Grove, Calif./Servite), Jr. Reggie Gilbert (Laveen, Ariz./Fairfax), RFr. Kyle Kelley (Irvine, Calif./Woodbridge), RFr. Dwight Melvin (Laveen, Ariz./Fairfax)
Dominique Austin, Lamar De Rego, Willie Mobley (Transferred to New Mexico State), Chris Merrill, Christian Upshaw
To say that Jeff Casteel’s first season as Arizona defensive coordinator was underwhelming would be an understatement. The Wildcats surrendered 499.0 yards per game, which ranked 118th out of 120 teams.
A lot of that had to do with the Wildcats’ inability to get the quarterback, as they ranked No. 108 in the nation with only 18.0 sacks. While the secondary and linebackers were also to blame, advanced statistics show that they were much better than they looked.
As a result, the key to a Wildcats’ defensive turnaround likely rests on the shoulders of the defensive line.
Luckily for the Wildcats, they return the majority of their defensive line from a year ago, while also integrating a few highly-touted recruits.
Seniors Tevin Hood and Sione Tuihalamaka have combined for 27 career starts, Reggie Gilbert led the defensive line in sacks last season with 3.5, but has struggled with consistency and Dan Pettinato is a coaches’ favorite, but he will miss the early part of the season due to injury.
Kyle Kelley and Dwight Melvin, who both redshirted last season, will also be given the chance to contribute. Linebacker Keoni Bush-Loo could also be used as a third-down, pass-rushing specialist.
Perhaps the most important piece of the defensive line is Justin Washington, a former Freshman All-American who has yet to reach his potential. If Washington can repeat his six-sack performance in 2010, the Wildcats’ defense likely will be much better.
A strong defensive line might be the difference between a 6-win season and an 8-win season.