Area of need: Linebacker
Current situation: Arizona is losing all three of its starters at linebacker, so that's the biggest area of need entering 2017. Injuries have been a major factor, but Arizona hasn't been good on defense by any stretch of the imagination recently, allowing 38.3 points per game in 2016.
The Wildcats can't expect a reincarnated version of Scooby Wright III to return to save them on that side of the ball, but they do need sturdy linebackers to emerge in place of Michael Barton, Paul Magloire and Tellas Jones. All three of those players have exhausted their eligibility after combining for 192 tackles and 15.5 tackles for loss as seniors.
Plan moving forward: Rich Rodriguez has already moved on the coaching front, hiring former Nevada defensive coordinator Scott Boone as Arizona's linebackers coach. Boone presided over defensive improvement for the Wolf Pack, and he'll be charged with rapidly developing the Wildcats' young talent under defensive coordinator Marcel Yates.
Given the mass exodus at the position, the Wildcats have been very active on the recruiting trail in search of linebackers. Just last week, Arizona secured the commitment of Colin Schooler, a talented inside linebacker from California. Joshua Brown, Kylan Wilborn, Tony Fields and Jose Ramirez also have committed, making that five linebackers in the Wildcats' 2017 class. Jalen Harris is also expected to contribute as a hybrid linebacker.
Of the players already on the Wildcats' depth chart, Brandon Rutt accumulated 17 tackles and recovered two fumbles.
But that's the extent of Arizona's experience at the position, so the time to build is now. With the offense as ineffective as it was in 2016 -- the Wildcats mustered a league-worst 24.8 points per game -- the defense must carry greater weight for this program to return to its winning ways.
There's hope that Arizona's attack can improve if quarterback Brandon Dawkins continues to mature, as his performance in the Wildcats' rout of Arizona State to close the season was encouraging. But the defense will have to be healthier and better regardless, and that will start with the fresh-faced linebackers on this squad.
Arizona begins 2017 at home against Northern Arizona before welcoming Houston the following week. That matchup against the Cougars should present an early trial by fire to ready the Wildcats for the regular season.