Projecting Arizona Football's starting lineup in 2024

Arizona v Arizona State
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DE. Junior. Ta'ita'i Uiagalelei. player. "Edge". Ta'ita'i Uiagalelei. 511. TU. .

Ta'ita'i Uiagalelei, Caleb Williams
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Uiagalelei has had his starting spot swiped by transfers Hunter Echols and Taylor Upshaw in back-to-back years, so he may look to snap the streak and finally earn his spot in the lineup. He's even heavier than Upshaw before him, and would bring a massive athletic presence to the position. He posted career highs in tackles (21 total) and TFLs (4.5). He also notched both a sack and a blocked kick, which bodes well for an even bigger role in 2024.

BBN. Graduate. player. 511. . Bill Norton. NT. . Bill Norton.

Bill Norton, Ta'ita'i Uiagalelei
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"Big" Bill Norton isn't going anywhere, and his starting job isn't even close to being touched. After winning a national title as a part of the rotation with Georgia in 2021, he's become an integral part of Arizona's defensive front. SEC-level talent isn't something that graces Arizona Stadium often, and he simply bullies people. He's a key leader on the defensive side of the ball and, standing at 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, can absolutely embarrass an offensive line. He forced two fumbles and deflected three passes at the line, so he's much more than just a space-occupier and could put himself on quite a few NFL Draft board with his final year of eligibility.

. Chubba Ma'ae. player. Chubba Ma'ae. 511. CM. . Senior. DT.

Ma'ae is a massive human being at 347 pounds — he's the heaviest on the entire team by seven pounds — who can take up two gaps entirely on his own. He spent his first four seasons with Division II UC Davis where he racked up 59 total tackles, eight TFLs, two sacks, and two fumble recoveries. He's got a very similarly stout build to Moe; the two are both 6-foot-2 and 340-plus pounds. His pairing with Norton on the interior will be a dangerous combination that leaves offensive lines with full hands.

Could lose the starting spot to: Incoming Syracuse transfer Kevon Darton, who contrasts Ma'ae with being quite undersized, but he's a high-motor player. He spent three years on the Orange's roster as a walk on before earning his scholarship, so he's not afraid to do the dirty work and "earn it". Either way, he'll be in the rotation.

. Tre Smith. DE. TS. Tre Smith. player. "Kat". 511. Junior.

Tre Smith, Ethan Vasko
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Smith is retuning to his home state of Arizona after three years in California. He played at San Jose State under Brennan and new Arizona defensive line coach Joe Seumalo and had a career year that ended with first-team All-Mountain West honors. Smith tallied 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss — both team leads. He's shown growth over his time in San Jose and became a proven commodity after injuries ended his 2022 campaign just one game in. He's on the leaner side and has the ideal build for the position at 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds.

LB. . Jacob Manu. Jacob Manu. . player. Jacob Manu. Junior. 511. Weakside linebacker

Jacob Manu
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Manu is the heart and soul of the defense, having burst onto the scene as Arizona's best linebacker in his freshman year in 2022. He got even better in 2023, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors as he led the conference with 116 total tackles and was second on the team in both sacks (6.5) and TFLs (9.5) while also notching three pass breakups and an interception. He filled out the stat sheet and is a true do-it-all linebacker who plays exceptional man and zone coverage while also being a threat in the run game and as a pass rusher. Another first-team all-conference nod seems to be in his future.

JF. . . player. RS Junior. Justin Flowe. LB. Middle linebacker. Justin Flowe. 511

Justin Flowe, Isaiah Ward, Bill Norton
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Flowe appeared in 13 games in his first season with Arizona and it still felt like he didn't get enough time. He's a gambler on the field and will find himself out of position, but that just has to be accepted as a part of his game. It's time for the new regime to take the leash off of him and let him roam the middle in a "see ball, chase ball" role. He's an athletic freak with a nose for the ball who has a penchant to disrupt plays and cause chaos. For lack of a better way of putting it, Flowe is a maniac. However, he's Arizona's maniac, and he'll be an even more involved part of the defense next year.

TS. Treydan Stukes. 511. "Star". CB. . . Senior. Treydan Stukes. player

Treydan Stukes
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Stukes is the defense's wily veteran, having been a member of the 2020 recruiting class. The Litchfield Park, Arizona, native has gotten measurably better every year and it all culminated in a career-year last year. He was named one of the eight team captains before the season and proceeded to notch a career-high 10 passes defended, four TFLs, and an interception en route to an All-Pac-12 honorable mention. As the "star", he'll be playing a hybrid defensive back-linebacker role, so his 55 total tackles should see an uptick too.

Tacario Davis. . 511. Junior. Tacario Davis. player. . "Boundary" cornerback. CB. TD

Tacario Davis, Landen King
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Davis, who entered the transfer portal back in January, has not yet withdrawn or announced a new home, has been added to Arizona's 2024 roster, and seems poised to return for his junior season despite. These turned out to be false, however, and he is set to take up the starting boundary corner position with Ephesians Prysock heading to Washington. As a boundary corner, he won't have much help from the other guys in the backfield, but his 6 foot 4 frame and All-Pac-12 honorable mention in 2023 prove that he's more than capable. No news is good news sometimes, especially when it comes to the transfer portal. It's safe to expect him to return and suit up for Arizona in the fall.

JP. . Sophomore. "Field" cornerback. Johno Price. Johno Price. CB. player. . 511

Price is joining Arizona with a year of JuCo experience under his belt. He's the definition of a "traits"-y player, standing at 6-foot-2 and having good instincts. He'll need to be coached up, as most JuCo prospects do, but starting him at the field corner spot where he'll have help on the back end from Dalton Johnson and Gunner Maldonado will give him room to grow. He knows how to get where the ball will be; he hauled in two interceptions and logged four pass breakups in his sole season at San Mateo. He also flashed an ability to rush the passer, which Arizona will occasionally scheme one of their defensive backs to do.

Could lose the starting spot to: Jai-Ayviauynn Celestine, who has carved out a special teams role over his two seasons and could be the next great Arizona defender to work his way up through the specials teams ranks. However, if the Arizona staff is worried about Celestine's 5-foot-9 stature being abused, they could also opt to put the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Emmanuel Karnley in the spot instead.

. . Gunner Maldonado. 511. GM. Senior. . Gunner Maldonado. FS. player

Gunner Maldonado, General Booty
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Maldonado is the epitome of growth, both over the course of a season and a career. The fourth-year Wildcat and Chandler, Arizona, native transferred to Arizona from Northwestern ahead of the 2021 season. He was getting his feet under him as a member of the rotation for the first two years before a breakout campaign in 2023. Even then, he had a mediocre-at-best season until the game against No. 11 Oregon State, where he posted a career-high 10 tackles. Against Arizona State, he did it again and forced a fumble to boot. However, his finest showing was his Defensive MVP performance in the 2023 Alamo Bowl. Nine total tackles, an interception, and two fumble recoveries — one of them going 87 yards to the house — will do that. It's safe to expect an even better season from Maldonado in '24.

DJ. . 511. Dalton Johnson. Dalton Johnson. player. RS Junior. . SS.

Dalton Johnson
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No player on this team has earned the right to be in the starting lineup more than Johnson. The former three-star recruit out of Katy, Texas, spent his first two seasons deep in the reserves and on special teams and logged just nine total tackles in this span. However, he's grown into a thumper with a nose for the ball, and he put the Pac-12 on notice last year. He was tied for the most forced fumbles in the conference with four while also hauling in an interception and breaking up two passes. He also logged an eye-popping 86 total tackles, the second most on the team, and paired it with a duo of sacks and six TFLs. Johnson emerged as a force from his box safety spot, and he'll continue to terrorize opposing offenses in 2024.