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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Defensive blossoming

Senior safety Cam Nelson tackles UCLA freshman quarterback Kevin Prince to the ground on Saturday as Arizona defeated the Bruins 27-13. Nelson has evolved to be a key part of Arizona?s defense this season.
Senior safety Cam Nelson tackles UCLA freshman quarterback Kevin Prince to the ground on Saturday as Arizona defeated the Bruins 27-13. Nelson has evolved to be a key part of Arizona?s defense this season.

One of the most critical positions on the Arizona football team is often overlooked by fans. When the Wildcats create a stonewall in front of opposing offense, rarely do defensive backs get much credit.

That’s changed to some degree in the past three weeks with the play of senior safety Cam Nelson. The senior free safety recorded 22 tackles (19 of them solo), three sacks, two forced fumbles and one broken up pass during that stretch. During the post-game press conference Nelson was one of the first players praised by head coach Mike Stoops.

“”Cam, he’s an excellent blitzer so that’s something that we probably need to continue (to) look at and try to position him more in some ways where we can bring him down into the box,”” Stoops said of Nelson’s two sacks and two forced fumbles against the UCLA Bruins. “”He’s got great speed and quickness … I think he’s starting to play freely and the game is starting to come to him.””

Nelson said the changes he has made in his approach to the game are part of the reason for his recent success. During his sophomore year, he said he didn’t always know his defensive assignments or all of the plays and was “”kind of out there free roaming.”” But the addition of Nate Ness to the starting lineup has helped Nelson’s growth.

“”When Nate got back there, Nate pretty much knew the defense,”” Nelson said. “”Corey Hall used to help me a lot, but Nate put it in my head that I could be a really good safety if I wanted to, I’ve just got to take it more seriously.””

And Nelson has. The 6-foot-1, 202-pound product of Kimball High School in Dallas, Tex., said he’s been studying film more, allowing him to become more comfortable with the defense.

“”Coach Mike, he watches a lot of film,”” Nelson said. “”Every time I go into his office, he’s got some type of film up, and he just gives me little tips and pointers during practice, and I try to use them. I think they’ve helped me in the game a lot.””

Nelson has some extra motivation this year. As a starter on last year’s Las Vegas Bowl winning team and a senior co-caption on this year’s squad, Nelson made the trip to Los Angeles, Calif., before the start of the season for Pacific 10 Conference Media Day. As Nelson and Stoops sat down at their table, they noticed a ranking next to the Wildcats’ name: eighth.

“”I told them at Pac-10 Media Day, I lied to them, I told them it didn’t bother us but it did,”” Nelson said. “”I texted guys on the team and told them we got to get our stuff together because even though we went to a bowl last year and beat a ranked team they’re still not going to respect us.””

During the UA’s season-opening win against Central Michigan, the Wildcats looked like they had a chip on their shoulder as they held the Chippewas to their lowest scoring output of the season with just 9 points. Now Arizona has a 5-2 record and finds itself in a tie for second place in the Pac-10 (with USC) with a 3-1 mark in the league. After manhandling the Bruins, it’s evident the Wildcats are still out to prove that they demand more respect.

Nelson has something else to shoot for besides proving doubters wrong. He has yet to intercept a pass while playing for the Wildcats. Nelson almost snatched one against UCLA, but “”(his) eyes got too big”” and the ball hit the turf.

Nelson said he should be able to get at least one interception before the end of the season, and his coaches agree. If Nelson keeps playing at the level he has for the past three games — and keeps playing relaxed — that will only bode well for the Wildcats.

“”You’ve just got to let it loose and be confident and be prepared and you’ve just got to play,”” said defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. “”It’s something that we’ve talked about and it’s good to see him doing that … It’s just good to see him playing some great football.””

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