Don't be surprised if... Arizona

First in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles (you can see Arizona's 2009 prediction here).

Don't be surprised if... The Wildcats defense is all about big plays -- both positive and negative ones.

Consider the Arizona defense, which is replacing seven starters from a unit that ranked second in the Pac-10, including quality leaders such as tackle Earl Mitchell and safety Cam Nelson.

Also consider the combination of Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed at end. They might become the best pass rushing tandem in the conference.

See three new linebackers and two voids in the secondary. And then see ball-hawking cornerback Trevin Wade.

Two things stand out when you look at the Wildcats defensive depth chart in 2010: 1. Inexperience, particularly at linebacker; 2. Playmakers, particularly Wade, Reed and Elmore.

So: Good things. And bad things.

Here's what I expect to see in 2010:

  • Reed and Elmore will lead a pass rush that records perhaps three sacks per game. Also, expect to see the capable D'Aundre Reed making things even more challenging for an O-line by lining up as a "third" end in obvious passing situations.

  • That pressure, combined with Wade's presence -- guess here is QBs will try not to throw his way -- will create plenty of turnover opportunities.

That's the positive. But here's the negative:

  • Inexperience at LB means the secondary will need to offer more run-support. And when safeties lean forward, bad things can happen behind them.

  • With the arrival of co-defensive coordinator Greg Brown, the Wildcats figure to use more press-man coverage and less zone (we'll see). One-on-one matchups are risky, particularly vs. quality QBs, which are plentiful in the conference.

  • Knowing that the Wildcats will have a strong pass rush and that they are questionable at linebacker, opposing offenses will dink and dunk with the hopes of catching one of those inexperienced LBs out of position. That's how short screens and hot routes become 55-yard catch-and-runs.

Every defensive coach loves sacks and takeaways. And they hate yielding explosion plays.

The Wildcats look like they could see a fair share of the former and latter in 2010. How the numbers swing one way or the other will be telling.