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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    NFL draft analysis: Player quality improving under Stoops

    Senior Copeland Bryan sacks California quarterback Joe Ayoob during the second half of Arizonas game against the Golden Bears Oct. 1 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif. Bryan, who led the team with 7.5 sacks, went undrafted during this weekends NFL draft but signed with the Tennessee Titans as a free agent.
    Senior Copeland Bryan sacks California quarterback Joe Ayoob during the second half of Arizona’s game against the Golden Bears Oct. 1 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif. Bryan, who led the team with 7.5 sacks, went undrafted during this weekend’s NFL draft but signed with the Tennessee Titans as a free agent.

    If a silver lining can be found in the wake of this weekend’s NFL Draft, in which only one of nine eligible Arizona football players was drafted, it’s that the quality of athletes leaving the program seems to be steadily improving under head coach Mike Stoops.

    Although running backs Mike Bell and Gilbert Harris, safety Darrell Brooks and defensive end Copeland Bryan were all passed over after mock drafts suggested otherwise, the latter two have already signed free-agent contracts with teams – Brooks with the Dallas Cowboys, Bryan with the Tennessee Titans – and both Bell and Harris are reportedly expected to have deals of their own in line in the very near future.

    What’s the big deal, you might ask? Four Arizona players were picked up as free agents last spring, and all of them are already out of the NFL. What’s so different about these guys that they won’t suffer the same fate?

    The difference could lie in an extra year of seasoning under Stoops and his coaching staff, now readying for their third season with the Wildcats.

    The guys this year who had a possibility of being drafted, if we were much more in the (national) limelight, I’m sure we would have had much better chances.

    – Copeland Bryan,
    senior defensive end

    Current players have heaped considerable praise on Arizona’s strength and conditioning program, and the results were seen this spring in veterans like defensive end Marcus Smith, who has added quite a bit of muscle while recovering from an ankle injury that ended his 2005 season after less than two games.

    “”The team has always had skill. It’s just harnessing that skill has been problem over the last few years,”” Bryan said yesterday as he trained at McKale Center. “”Since Stoops has come in, with the new coaching staff and the new weight (training) staff and everything, a lot of guys have been able to hone and develop their skills, taking them from a raw form to a more molded, conditioned form.””

    Moreover, where guys like Brooks and Bell essentially wasted two years in a stale program under former head coach John Mackovic, potential 2007 NFL picks like cornerback Antoine Cason and safety Michael Johnson have spent their entire Wildcat careers basking in the dim, but nonetheless present, glow surrounding Arizona football with Stoops at the helm.

    Consecutive 3-8 seasons, however, may have hurt eligible players who had the skill, but not the reputation, to be drafted.

    After Arizona’s Spring Game the week before the draft, Bryan said teams like Jacksonville, San Diego and Chicago were looking to take him as high as the fourth or fifth round.

    As it happened, the Bears opted for Mark Anderson of Alabama, a team that finished 9-2 last season, in the fifth, and Jacksonville went on to take two defensive ends whose schools have had a .500 record or better in a season since 2004.

    “”The only thing we need to start doing is getting more wins and building more exposure and more attention on the team,”” Bryan said. “”The politics of it is a huge factor, just in terms of some of the things that probably happened to us. The guys this year who had a possibility of being drafted, if we were much more in the (national) limelight, I’m sure we would have had much better chances.””

    Of course, while being drafted is a validation of all the effort an athlete puts forth during his college years, making an NFL roster is another achievement in itself.

    In a post-draft press conference Sunday, Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs gave early indication that seventh-round pick Kili Lefotu, the only Arizona player selected this weekend, stood a good chance of sticking around, at least through the summer.

    Gibbs said that while watching film of Lefotu, he liked his ability to play at three different positions – center, guard and tackle – on the offensive line.

    Washington also liked his size (6-foot-5) and experience (37 career starts), as Gibbs lauded Lefotu’s intelligence and aggressiveness.

    “”Obviously, we feel like we have a very good group of offensive lineman, and we wouldn’t want to bring in somebody we didn’t think could really compete,”” Gibbs said. “”We felt like this guy had a lot to him, and we feel like we got a really good pick there.””

    Whether other NFL coaches will be saying the same about Wildcats next year may depend on whether the team can finally make its first jump to the postseason since 1998.

    “”Having the team exposed like that would definitely give them a leg up,”” Bryan said.

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