Hopes are high in Tucson heading into the 2014 season as the Arizona Wildcats look to break through in the crowded Pac-12 South. Rich Rodriguez has quickly molded the Arizona roster into his image as one of the more exciting offensive teams in the conference. But for the Cats to get over the top in 2014, the team needs more out of their defense, which has made positive growth over the last few seasons. That growth took a major hit with the news of safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant leaving the program, putting a major dent in the talent-level of the Arizona defense this fall.
Bondurant has started the last two seasons in Arizona’s safety/linebacker “spur” hybrid role in the 3-3-5 lineup. He has emerged as a defensive playmaker for the Cats, returning three interceptions for touchdowns during his collegiate career. As a junior in 2013, Bondurant recorded 72 tackles and four interceptions to go along with seven tackles for loss, five pass breakups, and a forced fumble. Rodriguez was expecting Bondurant to team up with safeties Jared Tevis and Jonathan McKnight to create one of the more dynamic secondaries in the Pac-12.
With Bondurant now off the team, Arizona will have to rely on some its depth in the secondary to make up for the loss. Juniors Anthony Lopez and William Parks figure to be in line to step into the starting role after Lopez recorded 14 tackles in 2013 and Parks posted 31 tackles with two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, with five pass breakups. The Wildcats looked to have great depth in the secondary heading into fall camp, but will now have to stretch that depth a bit to make up for the loss of Bondurant.
While the Cats certainly aren’t hurting for able bodies, there’s no doubt that losing a talent like Bondurant will hurt. There is no other player on the Arizona roster that could provide the same kind of playmaking spark that the senior would have provided this fall. Will Rodriguez and Arizona find someone to fill the void a bit in 2014?