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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Freshman Johnson next in line at cornerback

Cortez Johnson arrived in Tucson as a touted, physical cornerback with a world of potential.

Former UA head coach Mike Stoops raved about the 6-foot-2, 190-pound defensive back’s size and speed. The New Orleans, La., native was expected to contribute early in the season with fellow Louisiana product Jonathan McKnight, who is out for the year.

But as is the case with most young corners, Johnson hit a wall when the playbook opened. He was constricted to mostly special teams duties until getting injured against USC and missing the next three weeks.

“Early on he was really shining because we didn’t have a lot of calls,” said secondary coach Ryan Walters. “That’s kind of where the freshmen hit a wall, when the whole package is thrown at them.”

But with starting defensive backs Shaquille Richardson and Jourdon Grandon suspended for Saturday’s game, and backups Lyle Brown and Mark Watley suspended for the first half, Johnson finally gets his chance to live up to the expectations that were placed on him early in the year.

The New Orleans, La., product, who has six total tackles and 0.5 tackles for a loss in five games, will start against Washington in Seattle on Saturday when the Wildcats need him more than ever.

“He’s been a competitor since he’s got here,” said senior safety Robert Golden. “We’re just hoping that he’s going to come out there Saturday and lay it all on the line for us and just get the job done.”

According to coaches and players, Johnson is completely capable of picking up the slack in Richardson’s absence. Walters called him one of the most athletic and physically gifted defensive backs on the entire roster, and UA’s schemes are finally starting to click for Johnson.

“He’s probably as athletic as any corner we’ve got, if not even more athletic,” Walters said. “Just his size and the way he can run, he’s going to have a bright future in this game so I’m looking forward to seeing him play on Saturday. He’s caught up now and he’s ready to go.”

While the tools are there, Johnson — who along with all players, save for team captains, was unavailable to the media this week — has yet to play big-time minutes at the college level. The excitement of starting his first college game will be evident, but that could be detrimental to Johnson.

“My goal is to get him calmed down because I know he’s going to be really amped up come pregame,” Walters said. “That can detract from your technique so I’ve got to harp to him on letting the game come to him, being calm and not trying to press and make plays that he’s not capable of making.”

Sophomore cornerback Derrick Rainey will receive reps as well this weekend. The Wildcats will also suit up former high school cornerback and current receiver Tyler Slavin, and a walk-on receiver, at cornerback in case of an emergency.

But ultimately, the pressure is on Johnson. He’s expected to be a major cog against an offense that ranks third in the Pac-12 in points per game, at 34.7, and one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the conference in UW’s Keith Price. If Johnson shines Saturday, it could kickstart what’s expected to be a long and successful career at Arizona.

“You’ve been waiting for your opportunity and when you get your opportunity you’ve got to take advantage of it,” senior cornerback Trevin Wade said he told Johnson. “Once Cortez gets it all together and puts all the pieces together, he’s going to be real great. He’s a tall big corner and he can run. If he gets the technique down he’ll be perfect.”

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