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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Newcomers looking to make big impact

    Lionel Dotson? He’s a Miami Dolphin now. Yaniv Barnett? He’s gone, too. Louis Holmes? He suits up for the San Francisco 49ers.

    Those three openings on Arizona’s defensive line will certainly be filled by a number of Wildcats this season. Perhaps the biggest question mark surrounding the defense coming into this year because of the inexperience at the position, this group of players turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of the offseason.

    “”I’m really excited. I couldn’t care less about what other people have to say,”” said defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo. “”They’re a bunch of good guys. They’ve worked very hard this summer, and their progress was really, really good. I’ll tell you, we’re gonna be ready.””

    One reason for Tuiasosopo’s confidence in his young unit was converting junior Earl Mitchell from a halfback to a defensive tackle in the offseason. Last spring, UA head coach Mike Stoops said Mitchell was too athletic to not get on the field, and the coaching staff was figuring out ways allow him to make more plays. It seems as if a switch to the other side of the line of scrimmage was just what Earl and the team needed.

    “”He’s going to make us a better team,”” Tuiasosopo said. “”Oh gosh, he’s got it all, man. He’s got the quickness, the explosiveness, the strength. He’ll take care of business.””

    Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said Mitchell is really starting to come into his own in that position, and other players have been turning heads as well. Junior safety Cam Nelson has seen a lot of potential in all of the players on the Wildcats’ defensive line.

    “”I don’t know if a lot of people have been paying attention, but our defensive line is very tough,”” Nelson said. “”Brooks Reed, Lolomana (Mikaele), Ricky Elmore, D’Aundre Reed, Earl, I like them all.

    “”They play hard every snap. They don’t take a snap off,”” Nelson added. “”They’re just relentless, and that’s what we’re gonna need.””

    Last year’s linemen – led by Barnett, Dotson and Holmes – anchored a defensive unit that allowed an average of 138 yards per game on the ground and chalked up 2.25 sacks per game.

    This year, a continual string of fresh bodies on the defensive line would help to keep each player’s energy level up and perhaps increase production at every position on the line.

    “”We’ve got some guys who are young but very, very talented,”” Tuiasosopo said. “”D’Aundre Reed, and Brooks (Reed) over there, and Ricky Elmore, and all of those guys. I ain’t worried about them.

    “”I just feel like we’re a much more together, cohesive unit, and that’s all part of having a good defensive line is being great together,”” Tuiasosopo added. “”They like playing next to each other, and they like bringing the pain.””

    Tuiasosopo also talked highly about freshman Apaiata Tuihalamaka and Mitchell’s likely sidekick at defensive tackle in Mikaele, adding that as many as eight players could see regular time in the defensive line’s two-deep rotation.

    But anytime the defensive line is mentioned, somehow the talk always goes back to Mitchell, who said the competition amongst him and his linemates only helps elevate their level of play. He also feels the unit is closer than it might have been in years past.

    “”It’s just real fun learning a new position and being able to get out there,”” Mitchell said. “”I’m excited. I look at the team from last year, and I look at us now, and there’s a lot of people who have a ‘want to’ attitude and want to get out there and play hard. I’ve been really impressed with everybody.””

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