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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Wildcats search for defense

    Wildcats search for defense

    Last year it was the offense that needed revamping for the Arizona football team.

    This season, the defense will undergo a complete makeover and try to find eight new starters to replace graduated seniors.

    But that’s why there’s spring football, which started for the Wildcats on Saturday sans pads. For several underclassmen and career backups, now is the time where hope springs eternal.

    UA head coach Mike Stoops and his brother, defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, will dig deep to try to fill the voids left by four-year veterans like Thorpe Award winner Antoine Cason, Wilrey Fontenot and
    Lionel Dotson.

    “”That’s what spring is for,”” said free safety Nate Ness. “”We have got to test guys out and find that next corner to fill (their) shoes.””

    In total, the Wildcats will fill eight spots left open on defense, including the entire defensive line, and two spots on offense.

    The offensive unit returns a combined 180 starts, compared to 81 on defense.

    Senior defensive end Johnathan Turner and senior linebacker Ronnie Palmer are the veterans of the defense, having started 25 and 28 career games, respectively.

    Players like Earl Mitchell, who made the switch from fullback to defensive line, will have a chance to boost their status on the depth chart.

    Newcomer linebacker Vuna Tuihalamaka, a junior college transfer, and juniors Adrian McCovy and Xavier Kelly will all get a chance to fill the void left by All-Pacific 10 Conference linebacker Spencer Larsen.

    Stoops is confident the offense will take care of itself next season, but admitted there are some glaring holes to fill on defense.

    Arizona’s defense in 2007 didn’t live up to expectations, but Stoops has a knack for developing strong defenses, particularly the secondary unit.

    “”Our first thing we have to do is find our identity and find out who’s who,”” Palmer said. “”There are a lot of young faces but there is a lot of talent – loads of talent.

    “”We’ll find out what it’s like three weeks from now, but it’s definitely intense.”” he added. “”Nobody wanted to go to the sidelines (in practice) because we were having so much fun.””

    Ness said the defensive unit’s goal is to “”bring Desert Swarm back,”” referring to UA’s stifling defense from the 1990s.

    “”That would be wonderful to be in the same sentence as them,”” Palmer said. “”That’s saying a lot right now, especially since we haven’t even put pads on.””

    Mark Stoops said the makeover will be fun for him as defensive coordinator, and added the position battles have already started.

    “”I feel good about the energy, the enthusiasm and the eagerness to learn,”” he said. “”I really love the talent that some of these guys have.””

    The Wildcats will have 15 practices leading up to the April 12 spring game.

    Stoops establishes team council

    In an effort to keep players disciplined, Stoops has developed a team council that keeps players on the same level.

    Stoops said it’s a way for the older players to keep the younger players in check and to get their priorities in line, something that’s sometimes out of the coach’s reach.

    In the past few years, Wildcat players have been arrested or have had academic troubles, similar to other programs, but Stoops wants to establish aasystem to try and rid the team of its off-the-field problems.

    “”Anytime players continually do things in a negative way, and you feel like as a coach you’re getting on the same guys over and over, it gets a little bit old,”” Stoops said. “”For players to have some accountability for themselves and for the other players I think it gives it even more validity.””

    There are 14 players total on the council, seven each on offense and defense, including Mike Thomas, Willie Tuitama, Nic Grigsby, Eben Britton, Palmer and Ness.

    “”We’re the ones that see each other 24/7,”” Tuitama said. “”When (players) know they have to deal with their other teammates, it kind of makes them think twice before they do something.””

    Grigsby gets new number

    Grigsby has ditched his No. 23 and gone to a very familiar jersey number that has roamed Arizona Stadium the last four years – No. 5.

    The freshman running back said he made the switch to the number formerly occupied by Cason, because his brothers, Marcellous and Ahmad, both wear No. 5 at Temple University and Kentucky, respectively.

    When asked if he was trying to take after his USC idol, Reggie Bush, who wore No. 5, he said, “”No, this is the Nic Grigsby look.””

    Tuitama talked with WR about NFL

    Tuitama said he had a conversation with Thomas in the offseason to make sure the junior receiver stayed at Arizona for his senior season.

    “”Mike T. was kind of thinking about leaving,”” Tuitama said. “”Him and I kind of talked and I just told him ‘Give me one more.’ That’s all I asked for, and he’s back.””

    Late hits

    Quarterback Jimmy Bevell has left the team. … Linebacker James Alford has also left the team but will be a student assistant. … Safefty Michael Klyce’s career is over after a shoulder injury that lingered will keep him off the field for good. … Former quarterback Kris Heavner will help out quarterbacks
    this season.

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