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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Seasoned Barton a welcome addition for Arizona football

Philip Downey/The Daily Californ
Then-Cal linebacker Michael Barton evades the defense during the Armed Force Bowl on Dec. 29, 2015.

Wisdom is a trait that many look past until situations spiral downward and a leader with experience is nowhere to be found. College athletes haven’t reached their prime, so it’s difficult to grasp how seasoned a college football player can be. But it’s not about the age, it’s about the mileage.

Arizona’s defense struggled with finding their true leader last season when All-American linebacker Scooby Wright III was lost to injury early on. The defense was left with their arms up in the air, hoping a true leader would emerge each game.

This season, Arizona’s defense is hinging on the mysterious tricks and stunts that first-year defensive coordinator Marcel Yates is installing, but there may be a leader flying under the radar that can help relay his style more effectively in senior linebacker Michael Barton.

With so many question marks on Arizona’s defense, providing the new generation of Wildcats with leadership is the perfect icebreaker for Yates’ defense.

For the most part, every player in a cardinal red and navy blue uniform had every intention to attend Arizona, but the Wildcats weren’t even on Barton’s radar until this past season when he transferred from California. When asked if he envisioned wearing an Arizona uniform, his response was as clear as day.

“Hell no,” Barton said. “In a perfect world, I would’ve done four years at Cal and [been] in the NFL by now. … The road isn’t always straight, but everything happens for a reason and I couldn’t be happier to be here.”

Related: Marcel Yates’ football journey helps Arizona in more ways than one.

The road less traveled has the potential, however, to work out for both parties. Barton has another chance to be a part of a program that could possibly set the tone for future defenses in terms of expectations. This is also Bartons’ last shot to prove that he’s capable of playing in the NFL.

Upon arrival, he had collected 169 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 32 games at Cal. Those aren’t numbers that Arizona fans are banking on, but there’s more than what meets the eye. Barton played for three different defensive coordinators with different schemes over three years.

Barton having dealt with adversity and adapting to multiple defensive schemes is in an ideal situation because Yates clarified that 4-2-5 isn’t the identity of the defense.

At some point, the infamous 3-3-5 defense that showed former defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel the door after last season will show, and then Yates will occasionally throw in the cookie-cutter 4-3-4.

The multitude of defenses can often be a steep learning curve, especially to the newcomers with hopes of contributing heavy minutes this season. Once again, due to the manner in which he has spent his time in college football, Barton seems to be the ideal candidate to transition the Wildcats’ defense from one defensive coordinator to another.

He spent the spring molding into Yate’s defense, and the different schemes are his second nature. Barton’s ability to reconstruct to multiple schemes, whether it’s blitzing or dropping back in pass coverage, alludes to his experience.

“I picked it up pretty quick and I think that just goes to me being in college football for so long and being football savvy enough to pick it up,” Barton said.

According to Barton, he’s earned nicknames from “O.G. to old man,” and accepted the role of being a student-teacher rather than just the student.

“I’m definitely the O.G. of the team because I’ve been around the block a few times. So everyone seems a lot younger to me now, but I like that role,” Barton said. “The young guys look up to me and they ask me a lot of questions and I feel like one of the wiser guys.”

Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.

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