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Arizona Wildcats spring football position-by-position preview: Linebackers

March 15, 2018 GMT

Spring football for the Arizona Wildcats is starting a little later than it has in recent years, but it’s almost here. With Kevin Sumlin’s first full practice as UA coach scheduled for Monday, we will examine the state of his team over the remainder of this week. The series continues with a look at the linebackers, the first half of a pair of series-concluding two-a-days.

LINEBACKERS

Who’s here: Colin Schooler (6-0, 226, SO), Tony Fields II (6-1, 225, SO), Anthony Pandy (6-0, 225, SO), Jacob Colacion (6-1, 218, RS SO), Carrington Vaughn (5-11, 220, RS SO)

Who’s coming: Issaiah Johnson (6-2, 210, FR)

The big question: If Schooler or Fields get hurt, are the Wildcats in trouble?

The situation at linebacker is similar to the one at quarterback: You feel really good about the starter(s) but aren’t sure about the backups.

Schooler and Fields were terrific last season as true freshmen. They did just about everything – including staying healthy. ( Fields suffered a concussion vs. Cal but did not miss any games.)

Both are aggressive and fearless and heavily involved in the action inside the tackle box. They proved durable last year, but health is never guaranteed in this sport.

So let’s say one were to suffer an injury that knocked him out for a month or so during the regular season. How would Arizona cope?

The top backups are fellow sophomores Pandy and Colacion (who’s technically a redshirt sophomore). Both played last season, mostly on special teams, and Pandy, in particular, flashed big-time potential.

Pandy is an explosive, tough, physical player who fell behind the learning curve when he suffered a sprained ankle in training camp. Too good to redshirt, Pandy carved out a role on kick coverage and in the dime package as a pass rusher.

He isn’t as advanced as Fields, but Pandy has the ability to be a suitable replacement if needed. It also would aid all parties if Pandy could push Fields at the “Will” position and/or sub for him from time to time.

Colacion has the smarts to play both the “Will” and “Mike.” Although far removed from the knee injury he suffered in high school that led to a redshirt year in 2016, Colacion still might have been a little tentative. He should be in a better place, physically and mentally, this spring to at least provide dependable snaps off the bench. To expect him to replicate Schooler and/or Fields’ production, at this point, would be a stretch.

There aren’t a ton of other options. Vaughn earned a scholarship last August but suffered a season-ending knee injury in September. Johnson was supremely productive in high school, and he might be called upon if things break wrong. But it’s probably in his and the team’s best interest if he’s limited to special teams or redshirts.

Given the dearth of depth, linebacker has to be a priority position in the next recruiting cycle. It’s possible a current player or two could move there from another position, as Gavin Robertson Jr. did a year ago. That experiment looked promising for a while but ultimately fizzled.

One possible candidate for such a move is incoming freshman Dayven Coleman. He’s coming aboard as a safety but can play in the box and has the same listed height (6-2) and weight (210) as Johnson.

Ideally, Schooler and Fields will remain healthy and continue to progress – going from Freshman All-Americans to candidates for national awards. Considering the lack of experience and depth behind them, they already have secured top spots on another list: players Arizona can least afford to lose.

ARIZONA SPRING PREVIEW SERIES

QuarterbacksRunning backsWide receiversTight endsOffensive linemenInterior defensive linemenEdge rushers