The Arizona Wildcats haven’t updated their depth chart since before fall camp, but the playing rotation came into sharper focus in a situational scrimmage at Arizona Stadium on Friday night.
The most significant move is this: Marquis Flowers is now an outside linebacker.
Flowers, who had been playing the “Spur” safety, changed spots early this week, shoring up the team’s thinnest position and allowing outside linebacker Jake Fischer to slide inside in the team’s base 3-3-5 defense.
Flowers (6-3, 221) is a rangy athlete who gives the linebacker unit a boost of speed. Coach Rich Rodriguez has been lamenting that the overall defense isn’t as fast as he would like.
“We’ve gotten faster moving Marquis there,” he said.
“He was willing to do that. Marquis is a team guy. He knows football. I’m excited to watch him. We need to get a lot of things on defense — we need to get faster and bigger, and he certainly makes us faster.”
Flowers had 68 tackles last season as a starting safety. His switch to linebacker also clears the way for playmaking sophomore Tra’Mayne Bondurant to start. They had been sharing the Spur, which is a hybrid safety/outside linebacker spot.
At middle linebacker, Fischer, a junior, fills what has been a troublesome spot for the Cats after senior transfer Brian Wagner left the team in the offseason. Sophomore Rob Hankins, a possible heir apparent, has missed almost all of preseason practice because of concussion problems.
There was no tackling in Friday night’s scrimmage, with the team focusing on executing the plays, tempo, timing, substitutions, game-day communication and getting accustomed to Arizona Stadium.
With the Sept. 1 opener vs. Toledo looming, here is how the starting defense looked Friday night:
**Defensive line: Sophomore Reggie Gilbert and senior Dominique Austin at ends, junior Tevin Hood at tackle.
**Linebackers: Flowers, Fischer, sophomore Hank Hobson.
**Secondary: Junior Shaquille Richardson and sophomore Jonathan McKnight at cornerback; Bondurant, Jourdon Grandon and Jared Tevis — each a sophomore — at safety.
Arizona’s third-down package included senior running back Taimi Tutogi as a pass-rushing end. He is going to be a valuable two-way player. Sophomore tackle Kirifi Taula joined Tutogi on the line in the third-down package, replacing Austin and Hood.
Also in third-down situations, Arizona brought in a third cornerback — Derrick Rainey — to replace Hobson, giving the Cats six defensive backs on the field (seven if you include the recently converted Flowers).
“I think it’s going to work out really good,” Richardson said of Flowers playing at linebacker. “He’s big and physical and fast. I joke around with him about it, but I think it’s the best move for the team and him.”
Rodriguez joked that Richardson now gets to run conditioning drills with the linebackers instead of the speedier defensive backs.
“He’s living large,” Rodriguez said. “He’s making all his times easy.”
On offense, the starting lineup looked like this:
**Offensive line (from left): Sophomore Mickey Baucus, junior Chris Putton, senior Kyle Quinn, senior Trace Biskin and sophomore Fabbians Ebbele.
**Receivers: Seniors Dan Buckner and Terrence Miller on the outside; junior Richard Morrison in the slot.
**Running backs: Sophomore Ka’Deem Carey, Tutogi.
**Quarterback: Senior Matt Scott.
The next wave of receivers included sophomore Austin Hill (who played in four-wide sets) sophomore Tyler Slavin, redshirt freshman David Richards, redshirt freshman walk-on Johnny Jackson and junior walk-on Sean Willet.
The most interesting battle on offense has been going on at right tackle between Ebbele, last year’s starter, and redshirt freshman Lene Maiava. Ebbele has been working his way back after missing almost all of spring because of suspension.
“He’s an animal,” Quinn said of Ebbele.
“He’s a really big guy and he throws his weight around and just runs people over. It’s great to have him back out there. He’s really matured. He’s starting to emerge as one of the younger leaders on the team. His presence is felt every time he is out there on the field with us.”
Maiva was part of the second-team group that also included Putton moving out to left tackle, with true freshman Cayman Bundage at left guard.
Rodriguez said before the scrimmage that about 10 to 12 true freshmen will end up playing this season — and 13 of them (almost all on defense) were with the split squad that wore blue jerseys last night, signifying they weren’t on the scout team.
Those 13 freshmen were:
Bundage, running back J.T. Washington, outside linebacker/defensive end Keoni Bush-Loo, defensive end Kyle Kelley, linebacker Dakota Conwell, walk-on linebacker Shadow Williams, third-team quarterback Javelle Allen and defensive backs Jamar Allah, Wayne Capers Jr., Bryan Harper, William Parks, Yamen Sanders and walk-on Vince Miles.
Most figure to be slated for second-team duties and/or special teams, but that’s still to be determined.
Rodriguez, who might release a depth chart Monday, chuckled when asked Friday night about the two-deep.
“A two-deep assumes that we have two deep, right?” he said.
Well, ready or not, the opener is a week away.