Analyzing Arizona Football's interior defensive line ahead of the 2024 season

The offseason has ravaged Arizona's interior d-line, and the Wildcats will be relying on a trio of transfers to pick up the slack.
UC Davis v Weber State
UC Davis v Weber State / Chris Gardner/GettyImages

Arizona Football was able to stay largely intact after the coaching change that saw Jedd Fisch head to Washington and former San Jose State head coach Brent Brennan take up the reigns. However, the group that was hit hardest by the offseason was the interior defensive line.

Contrasted with the interior offensive line, which retained every single player from last season, the IDL room saw the top five options all seek new homes. No loss was more gutting than that of nose tackle Bill Norton, who will follow former Arizona defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen to Texas after emerging as a force for the Wildcats in his sole season in Tucson.

2023 Roster:

  • Bill Norton - Transferred to Texas
  • Tiaoalii Savea - Transferred to Texas
  • Tyler Manoa - Undrafted in 2024 NFL Draft
  • Sio Nofoagatoto'a - Undrafted in 2024 NFL and CFL Drafts
  • Jacob Kongaika - Transferred to ASU
  • Ta'ita'i Uiagalelei - Returned to Arizona
  • Keanu Mailoto - Returned to Arizona
  • Isaiah Johnson- Returned to Arizona
  • Chase Randall - Returned to Arizona
  • Bryce Echols - Returned to Arizona
  • Nick Fernandez - Returned to Arizona

2024 Projected roster:

  • Chubba Ma'ae - Transferred in from UC Davis (Division II)
  • Kevon Darton - Transferred in from Syracuse
  • Jarra Anderson - Transferred in from Memphis
  • Ta'ita'i Uiagalelei - Returned to Arizona
  • Isaiah Johnson - Returned to Arizona
  • Keanu Mailoto - Returned to Arizona
  • Chase Randall - Returned to Arizona
  • Bryce Echols - Returned to Arizona
  • Nick Fernandez - Returned to Arizona

Tiaoalii Savea is following Norton and Nansen to Texas, while Tyler Manoa and Sio Nofoagatoto'a are trying to catch on in the pros and Jacob Kongaika jumped ship for ASU. The three incoming transfers are all poised to not only see significant field time, but they're all in the conversation to be among the two starters.

Chubba Ma'ae (Senior) | 6'2" 347 lbs.

Chubba Maee, Josh Davis
UC Davis v Weber State / Chris Gardner/GettyImages

Ma'ae is going to be a wrecking ball for the Wildcats. Once again, Arizona leveraged its position as a 'Poly Pipeline' school and brought in the 347-pound defensive tackle from Division II UC Davis. The two-time All-Big Sky honoree is the heaviest player on the Arizona roster for 2024, and he seems all but locked into a starting spot.

He played in 36 games over his four seasons with the Aggies, notching 59 total tackles, eight tackles for a loss, and two sacks. He brings a wealth of experience to Arizona, and he could potentially leverage a sixth season with Arizona if all goes well due to arriving at UC Davis during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kevon Darton (Graduate) | 5'11" 271 lbs.

Kevon Darton
Wake Forest v Syracuse / Bryan Bennett/GettyImages

Darton is what you'd call a "lunch pail" guy. Prior to joining Arizona in the offseason and following his former head coach Dino Babers, he spent four seasons at Syracuse where he started as a walk-on. Despite his smaller stature at just 5-foot-11 and 271 pounds, he's a bulldog who plays with some serious hustle.

He played for three years before he was given a scholarship ahead of the 2022 season, and he became the starting nose tackle for the Orange from then on. He improved every year he was at Syracuse and capped it off with 42 tackles, eight TFLS, and five sacks last year. He'll push for a starting job right away in his new colors.

Jarra Anderson (Sophomore) | 6'2" 260 lbs.

Anderson is joining Arizona after a promising freshman season at Memphis where he played in 11 games for the Tigers and tallied 10 total tackles, two TFLs, and 1.5 sacks. The former three-star recruit hails from Katy, Texas — the hometown of Arizona safety Dalton Johnson.

Memphis always felt like it bordered on being a power-conference school since joining the American Athletic Conference after the Big East dissolved. Now, Anderson gets to officially make the jump back up the big leagues in the Big 12, and he'll land at Arizona with three full seasons and a redshirt year remaining.

Ta'ita'i Uiagalelei (Junior) | 6'4" 285 lbs.

Ta'ita'i Uiagalelei, Caleb Williams
Arizona v USC / Katelyn Mulcahy/GettyImages

Uiagalelei is the sole player in contention for one of the starting DT jobs that has been around the Arizona program. The junior is entering his third year with the Wildcats and was listed on the depth chart as the backup defensive end behind either Hunter Echols or Taylor Upshaw for the last two years.

However, with the defensive tackle group in need of another decently big body with experience, it makes sense for Uiagalelei to shift inside in a big for more playing time. He appeared in all 13 games last year and logged 21 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, and one sack, which bodes well for how he could do with more playing time.

ICYMI. IOL. Analyzing Arizona Football's interior offensive line ahead of the 2024 season. dark

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