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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Depth to bolster unit

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Alan Walsh
Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat

The first thing that jumps out about the 2009 Arizona defensive line is depth, followed shortly by athleticism. A fast defensive line coupled with a dependable two-deep rotation will keep opposing offensive coordinators from sleeping on a Friday night.

The unit, which has starting experience at all four positions, is led by juniors bookends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, a tandem that combined for 12 sacks last season.

“”We were both new starters (last year) so we have a lot more experience now,”” Elmore said.  “”We made personal commitments to work hard in the offseason and to come back and do twice as good as we did last year.””

One thing that will be at the defensive lines’ disposal this year will be 6-foot-2, 305-pound defensive tackle Lolomana Mikaele. The junior, who did not play last year because of an administrative issue, adds depth to a defensive tackle rotation that returns senior starters Earl Mitchell and Donald Horton.

“”It feels so good to be back,”” said a visibly excited Mikaele. “”I feel like I’m ready to come out strong this year and be somebody.””

And Mikaele’s return to the field is welcomed by the UA coaches as well.

“”(Mikaele) brings toughness, he brings a lot of strength, explosiveness, and he’s really an excellent leader,”” said defensive tackle coach Mike Tuiasosopo. “”He keeps our group together. The younger guys look up to him and so do our older guys.””

Mikaele’s return to the field will be instrumental in stopping opposing rushing attacks, something that the unit worked hard to improve upon during the offseason.

“”A lot of teams think we can pass rush but can’t play the run, but I think they’re wrong.”” Reed said. “”I think our D-line can play both.””

The balance between defending the run and rushing the passer should be easier for the Wildcats this year because of the number of players that can produce on the line. Reed, Elmore, Horton and Mitchell will start but keep an eye out for Mikaele and defensive ends D’Aundre Reed and Apaiata Tuihalamaka to be on the field at anytime.

“”You always have to have a rotation,”” said defensive end coach Jeff Hammerschmidt.

“”We’re confident with all of those guys being on the field at any given time.

“”Rick and D’Aundre make a good 1-2 combination (at defensive end opposite of Reed),”” Hammerschmidt added. “”Ricky does a good job, he just needs to keep being consistent and he has done a good job of that and D’Aundre has been solid. When they get in there, they work great together.””

The rotation will help keep players fresher in the fourth quarter, and fresh legs combined with their athleticism should allow the Wildcats to put constant pressure on a quarterback late in the game.

It’ll also help the defensive line combat its possible biggest hindrance: size.

“”Teams think that we’re a little bit light this year,”” Reed said of the defensive line, which doesn’t have a starter listed heavier than 300 pounds.

But the knock on the group’s size hasn’t held it back. Instead, it has inspired the players.

“”We’re taking all the respect that we don’t get and taking it personally,”” Elmore said. “”(Reed and I) bring a lot more experience, and (the defensive line) has a lot more overall depth and experience. We want to do twice as good as we did last year.

“”Our D-line is pretty underrated,”” he added. “”Just because our names aren’t out there doesn’t mean that we aren’t good.””

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