Derek Earls is the new man in the middle for Arizona.
Photo by Brad Allis, WildcatSportsReport.com
Arizona released its post-spring depth chart Wednesday, and the starting linebacker spots came into clearer focus.
“Obviously, it’s the biggest question mark,” said Tim Kish, the linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator.
There’s no experience to speak of, but there are reasons for reasonable optimism.
“That’s the way we always look at it, with the glass half full,” Kish said.
What we know at the end of spring ball that we didn’t at the beginning is that mid-year junior college transfer Derek Earls should be solid at middle linebacker. And that sophomore Jack Fischer, from Ironwood Ridge High School, is a real find. And that … well, maybe that’s about it.
Here’s how Kish breaks it down:
MLB Derek Earls, Jr., 6-3, 235
Kish said Earls is a “little bit behind concepts-wise, but I have never had a guy come in from a juco situation and be able to transition that quickly at that position. He made a few mistakes, but he did them playing fast. If you’re going to make a mistake early, make it playing fast.
“He really has a tremendous upside. I’m really anxious to see how he will progress over the course of the summer and fall camp, and I anticipate him being a leader as well.”
SLB Jake Fischer, So., 5-11, 220
He doesn’t fit the physical profile that the UA coaches would like from their linebackers, but Kish seems to like everything else about Fischer, who mostly played on special teams as a true freshman. Fischer did enough to impress in spring, moving from the weak side to the strong side, even though he was limited with a foot problem. Kish said Fischer underwent surgery Tuesday to remove an extra bone from a foot.
“That’s a guy who is a little bit of a throwback,” Kish said.
“I tell you what, I just think his potential is great because he’s such a tough nut and he can do so many things for you. He can come off the edge. He can be in the gap in the core in run situations. He’s quick enough to help on the perimeter in pass situations. His flexibility and his toughness overshadow any lack of size he might have.”
WLB Paul Vassallo, Jr., 6-3, 240 and WLB R.J. Young, So., 5-11, 232
Vassallo and Young are listed as co-starters heading into the summer.
“Paul probably has not picked it up as quickly as Derek from a concepts standpoint and probably is not playing as fast right now, but I think potentially he could have the same impact as Derek,” Kish said.
“I think R.J. has been fairly steady all spring. I’m not giving either one of those guys the nod right now. I want them to compete all summer and in the offseason program and come out ready to compete again in the fall. Hopefully, the good news will be that both will help us.”
Also on the depth chart are redshirt freshman Trevor Erno and senior C.J. Parish at middle linebacker, and redshirt freshman Cordarius Golston at strong-side linebacker.
On Parish, Kish said: “He is going to play a little bit of defensive end for us. We’re trying to get that fast rush group going, and he could be a factor in that. I’m really pleased in the progression he’s made.”
Arizona has one incoming recruit at the position — freshman Kyle Benson from Tempe Corona del Sol High School — but he is recovering from a knee injury, which limits his chances of contributing in his first year.