Pac-12: Rob Hankins

Lunch links: Buffs will try two QBs

September, 11, 2012
"Excuse me, Flo? Flo, like the TV show. Uh, what is the Soup Du Jour?"
"It's the Soup of the Day."
"Mmmmm. That sounds good. I'll have that."
Arizona misses Washington State and Cal on the 2012 schedule, which means the Wildcats dodge top-tier wide receivers Marquess Wilson and Keenan Allen. Still, new Arizona defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel isn't exactly breathing a sigh of relief. He still has to prep for USC's Marqise Lee and Robert Woods and Oregon State's Markus Wheaton.

"Wide receivers are everywhere," said Casteel, who joins Rich Rodriguez's staff from West Virginia. "That's a problem. I'm having trouble sleeping in the desert thinking about all of the guys we're going to have to face this fall.

"There is so much talent in the conference and they are all well-coached. You go from Oregon running up-tempo to Stanford grinding it out. You really see the full gambit."

It's been a hectic spring for Casteel trying to get his new team up to speed on his 3-3-5 defense. Things got a little tougher when 1) defensive back Adam Hall was lost for the year with a knee injury in the spring -- his second ACL tear in as many years -- and 2) last week linebacker Brian Wagner, a transfer from Akron and projected starter, decided to give up football, leaving the Wildcats especially thin at linebacker.

"That definitely put a dent in us," Casteel said of Wagner's departure. "Brian was a good kid and it just didn't work out for him. His situation was he came from Akron and that's a long way from home. It's tough to see him go."

That leaves Casteel re-arranging the deck. It could mean one of Arizona's big-bodied safeties -- makes a move to linebacker. Plus most 3-3-5s usually have a hybrid linebacker-safety. That could be the 6-foot-3, 221-pound Marquis Flowers. Or he could move C.J. Dozier or Rob Hankins or Hank Hobson.

"We're looking at a lot of different options," said Casteel, who also coaches the linebackers. "There are some safeties that could play in the box. We're talking about moving some kids around and we'll have some new guys coming in and there is some talent there and they'll get a chance to prove themselves also."

In the meantime, he said he'll lean heavily on middle linebacker Jake Fischer -- who is coming off of a knee injury that kept him on the sidelines all of last year.

"He's a leader and he's our bell cow going into the season."

Despite the holes, Casteel is happy to report the transition to the new scheme is going fairly well. He admits it's going to take some time for them to get comfortable, but there are some universal truths he's hoping his players can fall back on regardless of the scheme.

"Football is football," he said. "A little more gets made (of the 3-3-5) than there really is. It's not much different. It's an odd front, but it's still about getting off blocks and staying square and using your hands and getting people on the ground. Those are the things you focus on. If you are a good fundamentals team, you'll have a chance for success.

"We've only had 15 practices with them and they are still learning and we're all feeling our way around. But they had a good spring. They got better from the first day to the last day, which is good. I'm anxious to get with them and see how much they've retained. Hopefully they'll make some strides in the first couple of weeks in practice."

Arizona down two linebackers

June, 18, 2012
Some tough news coming out of Arizona late last week when coach Rich Rodriguez confirmed a report that projected starting linebacker Brian Wagner was leaving the program.

Anthony Gimino of first reported the story.
“I don’t have love for the game anymore. I told coach that, and that was it. It was something I was thinking about for a long time. That’s kind of where I’m at right now ... I think I'm done with football."

Rodriguez later confirmed Wagner's departure with a text.
"He just decided not to play football anymore.”

Wagner, a transfer from Akron who worked mostly with the first team during spring drills, was one of the nation's best tacklers last season, notching 147 stops.

As the Wildcats move to a 3-3-5 defense, they were already light at the linebacker spot. The news was compounded with the confirmation that backup linebacker David Lopez has also left the program.

Rob Hankins, a 6-foot-1, 218-pound sophomore, likely moves into a starting role -- at least for now -- alongside Jake Fischer and Hank Hobson.

Fischer, who missed all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, represents the bulk of Arizona's linebacking experience. In a Q&A a couple of weeks ago, Fischer half-heartedly joked that Arizona was thin at linebacker. It just got a lot thinner. (Billy Halleck one-liners welcomed).'s Bruce Feldman has ranked the top-10 "impact true freshmen," Insider and USC receiver George Farmer ranks third. Here's what Feldman wrote about Farmer:
3. George Farmer, WR, USC Trojans:

If, as many Trojans insiders insist, Farmer is even more talented than his buddy Robert Woods, Matt Barkley is going to have a startling array of firepower to work with (don't forget about former blue-chip WR Kyle Prater, who redshirted in 2010). Farmer has blazing speed, and at 6-foot-2, 205 he has a very strong, sturdy frame to go with it. With him in the lineup, defenses will be seriously tested, having to cope with Farmer's speed and Woods' explosiveness at the same time.

Woods was dominant this spring, but many expect Farmer to be Woods' equal this fall. We'll see. If so, Barkley and the Trojans might not need much of a running game with their patchwork offensive line. What about the other 11 Pac-12 teams? Who is the most likely impact freshman for each? Because of our "heck yeah!" attitude, we've decided to take a stab at this query. Understand that it's not just about highly rated, it's about who might help immediately.

Arizona: The Wildcats signed three touted linebackers, but we're tapping Rob Hankins as the one who will make the most impact -- and by impact, we mean start. While Hankins is a pure inside linebacker, the Wildcats need immediate help on the outside due to Jake Fischer's knee injury.

Arizona State: With so many returning starters, the Sun Devils won't need a true freshman to start immediately. But after the knee injury to Omar Bolden, cornerback went from a position of strength to a questionable one -- at least in terms of depth. So the best guess is Rashad Wadood will get an early opportunity to work his way into the rotation.

California: The Bears reeled in an outstanding class, particularly on defense. A number of those guys are going to play. But a need area next fall for Cal is running back, where 5-foot-7, 188-pound junior Isi Sofele is atop the depth chart. So we're tapping running back Brendon Bigelow as the impact freshman, with the caveat that he is coming back from a knee injury. If not Bigelow, then perhaps it will be Daniel Lasco.

Colorado: The Buffaloes lost two starting corners to the NFL and struggled against the pass in 2010. They need help in the secondary, and Sherrard Harrington looks like the best bet, either at cornerback or perhaps at safety.

Oregon: Colt Lyerla is going to play for Oregon next fall, likely as a hybrid tight end/H-back sort. But the Ducks are solid at tight end. They need either Devon Blackmon or Tacoi Sumler to step up as an outside receiver. We're going with Sumler who has special speed and is more polished as receiver.

Oregon State: Rusty Fernando was penciled in as a starting defensive end at the beginning of spring practices, and it appears it will remain that way. But he's a junior college transfer. So, in the interest of focusing on incoming freshmen, we're going with Terron Ward, a grayshirt freshman running back who flashed ability this spring. At least one of the three true freshmen running backs figures to get touches.

Stanford: Linebacker James Vaughters is a beast. His film will give you goose bumps. He's going to play. But in terms of need, receiver is a far more questionable position for the Cardinal this fall. So watch out for Ty Montgomery.

UCLA: A lot of UCLA fans would say quarterback Brett Hundley. He finished No. 3 on the depth chart after spring practices and, while he's the quarterback of the future, it likely would be better to redshirt him, if possible. But Kevin Prince's inability to stay healthy and Richard Brehaut's inability to be consistent might make that impossible. And the Bruins recruiting class doesn't include any other obvious impact guys for this fall.

Utah: This one is easy -- running back Harvey Langi was No. 2 on the post-spring depth chart behind John White, and that competition is ongoing. Langi is going to get plenty of carries.

Washington: Another easy one -- Austin Seferian-Jenkins finished spring as a push with Michael Hartvigson as the Huskies starting tight end. Nothing suggested that he won't live up to the considerable hype he received during recruiting.

Washington State: Outside linebacker Logan Mayes has great Cougar bloodlines; he's the son of former Washington State All-American running back Rueben Mayes. He has the athletic ability and football smarts to work his way into the mix immediately, mostly likely at strong side linebacker.
Arizona has lost a third contributor -- and second defensive starter -- to a knee injury.

Jake Fischer, who started at strongside linebacker last season, tore his ACL late in the spring game Saturday and will have surgery next week. He likely will be out six to eight months.

The Wildcats previously lost safety Adam Hall and backup tailback Greg Nwoko to knee injuries this spring.

Arizona is deeper in the secondary than at linebacker, where Fischer was one of three returning starters. Two backups from 2010, R.J. Young and Trevor Erno, quit the team. Redshirt freshman Kyle Benson is listed as Fischer's backup on the latest depth chart, while walk-on Bilal Muhammed is listed as the backup at the other two spots.

Defensive coordinator Tim Kish said last week before Fischer's injury that he expected incoming freshmen Rob Hankins, Hank Hobson and Domonique Petties to immediately compete for playing time. Now they figure to immediately compete to start.