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Arizona football notes: Wildcats could miss Wagner’s smarts at middle linebacker

Rich Rodriguez Matt Scott Jake Fischer

Rich Rodriguez, Matt Scott and Jake Fischer answer questions during Pac-12 Media Day at Universal Studios Hollywood. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — Some Arizona Wildcats notes from early in Pac-12 Media Day:

Arizona lists only four linebackers on its two-deep, including true freshman C.J. Dozier, who enrolled early and participated in spring ball. UA will get a look at true freshmen Dakota Conwell (one of its highest-rated recruits), plus walk-ons Lucas Petrullo and Shadow Williams in fall camp.

The team’s already shaky depth took a hit when senior Brian Wagner left the team in the summer, telling TucsonCitizen.com that “I don’t have love for the game anymore.” Wagner, a graduate transfer from Akron, was the nation’s leading returning tackler.

“Him leaving, we were disappointed in that,” said junior linebacker Jake Fischer, the team’s only veteran at the position.

“It’s going to be hard to replace that because he was such a smart player, and he can play. At that middle linebacker position, you need somebody who is smart and capable of directing plays and directing the D-line to where people need to go.”

Arizona lists sophomore Rob Hankins as the only player listed at middle linebacker. Sophomore Hank Hobson is listed as a starter at an outside linebacker position. Both played last season as true freshmen last season, although coach Mike Stoops at one point said it was almost unfair to put them in a position of having to play early.

Such was the Cats’ depth last season, and it’s worse this season after the graduation of Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls.

“We have lot of young guys hungry to learn and hungry to play, and they’re in there watching film all the time,” Fischer said. “I like what we’ve got now; they just need to step up.”

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Arizona figures to try to use a rotation of Shaquille Richardson, Derrick Rainey and Jonathan McKnight at cornerback. There is little other experience on the roster.

Richardson and Rainey were starters throughout spring while McKnight rehabbed from an August ACL tear. McKnight do some drill work but didn’t have any contact.

“He had a pretty good spring,” coach Rich Rodriguez said about McKnight.

“He didn’t go through full contact because he was still protecting his knee. But his knee is 100 percent. We’ll probably still limit him with contact and live stuff in August, but he should be good to go on Sept. 1 In our opening game against Toledo.”

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Here are three good one-liners from Arizona’s time at the podium at Pac-12 Media Day:

** “Every practice felt like we were playing against Oregon.” — Fischer on going against Arizona’s new read-option offense in the spring.

** “It was tough for me to sit on the sideline. I felt like I wasn’t contributing to the team’s success, the little success we had.” — Quarterback Matt Scott, on redshirting last season

** “Best decision the coaching staff made.” — Rodriguez, on Scott redshirting as a senior

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Arizona’s new roster includes a couple of players added since the on-line roster was updated in June. They are both safeties: Keahi Hogan (6-4, 190) from Orange Coast College in California, and Brendan Murphy (5-11, 185) who has spent time at Air Force and Glendale Community College. He attended Scottsdale Chaparral High, which has become a new pipeline for Arizona since head coach Charlie Ragle was brought in as assistant director of operations.

Other Media Day stories:

Rodriguez on Penn State sanctions: Nothing is going to be as tough as what those victims went through

Arizona releases first depth chart of Rodriguez era

Pac-12 media poll: USC overwhelming favorite; a few curious votes for ASU

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