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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Getting defensive

Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Roxana Vasquez
Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat

UA head football coach Mike Stoops is known for his defenses, specifically in the defensive backfield.

Stoops played safety while at college in Iowa (1982-84) and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops suited up for the Hawkeyes’ defensive backfield as well (1986-88). While he was the defensive backs coach for the Miami Hurricanes, Mark Stoops helped the team to four straight Big East titles and a national championship (2001). Around the same time, Mike Stoops was the mastermind behind the Oklahoma Sooners’ defense during the team’s 2000 run to the national title.

So it should be no surprise that the 2009 version of the Arizona Wildcats’ secondary could be one of the strengths of the team.

“”All of our guys are athletic — the whole team is pretty fast and everybody is good out there,”” said starting cornerback Devin Ross. “”But our defensive backs, everyone is fast, everyone is a good tackler and everyone’s an athlete, which is really good about our secondary.””

Senior Cam Nelson is set to start the season at free safety after playing strong safety last season. His move allowed the UA coaching staff to move sophomore Robert Golden to the starting strong safety spot after playing him sparingly last year as a cornerback. Mark Stoops views the position changes as a plus, pointing out that Nelson started his career at the UA as a cornerback as well.

“”They develop quickness and they develop some man-to-man skills (at cornerback),”” Mark Stoops said. “”They’re on a little bit more of an island their first year and then, as they move to safety, they’re a little bit more athletic safety.””

And that’s exactly what Golden’s teammates see in the 5-foot-11, 190-pound native of Fresno, Calif.  In fact, Golden has embraced the challenge of switching positions.

“”I feel that it’s a positive on my end to play corner and safety. I like it a lot and it doesn’t bother me at all,”” Golden said. “”I tried to contribute to the team as much as I could my freshman year. Now that they’re giving me the opportunity to shine on the football field during an 11-on-11 game, I feel a lot more comfortable and I want to get out there and make plays for the team.””

Another player who earned a starting spot by being a solid contributor last season and working hard in the offseason is redshirt sophomore Trevin Wade. Despite playing on just 28 snaps last season, Wade tied for the team lead with four interceptions. This year, Wade will start out the year as a starting cornerback opposite Ross, the lone member of the secondary who played in the same position last season.

Ross, a senior, was a steady force on the UA defense last season. Few Wildcats will forget his interception return for a score against then-No. 25 California to seal a 42-27 Arizona win. Coaches are looking for Ross to be one of the leaders on the defensive side of the ball and he certainly has the experience to help the rest of the secondary improve.

“”Being a starter last year, I just try to come out and lead the secondary,”” Ross said. “”I sat behind two NFL corners, Wilrey Fontenot and Antoine Cason, so I know a lot about the defense and learned from those two guys.””

With Nelson, Golden, Wade and Ross holding down the four starting spots in the secondary, that leaves a slew of others who could contribute in spot duty. Safeties Joe Perkins and Brandon Tatum, cornerbacks Marcus Benjamin and Mike Turner, and nickelback Corey Hall have all played well throughout summer and fall camps and could see significant playing time this year.

But no matter who lines up in the Wildcats’ defensive backfield, players and coaches alike are confident that this group has the potential to be one of the stingier units in the Pacific 10 Conference.

“”I think we’ll be a better secondary, I really do. Much like a year ago when we replaced players, generally speaking, we’re replacing them with better players right now,”” Mark Stoops said. “”I love the guys who are playing. They lack a little bit of experience, but they have a lot of talent and I don’t look for any drop-off at all.””

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