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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Mitchell sticks his nose into ‘D’

    When fullback Earl Mitchell tied up his cleats and headed into game action last year as a sophomore for the Arizona football team, he had one chief goal: to protect the quarterback.

    It’s funny how things eventually turn out.

    Now with Arizona’s coaching staff deciding to move Mitchell to the other side of the ball to play as an interior defensive lineman, he isn’t concerned with anything besides hitting the opposing signal caller – hard.

    “”I was a little confused (with the change) at first because I took great pride in blocking for the quarterback,”” Mitchell said. “”But at the same time I wasn’t able to be as physical (on offense) so I was definitely kind of excited.

    “”I want to use all the things that I know I could do but couldn’t because I was on offense to help me succeed on defense,”” Mitchell added. “”I’ll be ready.””

    Something the defensive line lacked last year was quickness and the ability to put major pressure on opposing quarterbacks. In Arizona’s 12 games last season, the Wildcats only registered 27 sacks, ranking them 45th nationally.

    Arizona head coach Mike Stoops had said a number of times that the coaching staff needed to incorporate Mitchell’s size and speed into the offense more, but it seemed they never got quite around to making a package for the 6-foot-2, 265-pounder.

    Logically, it makes sense that there wouldn’t be much room for a fullback who claims blocking as their expertise in a spread offense, but that didn’t mean Stoops didn’t want to figure out a way to get Mitchell into the game.

    Mitchell caught only five passes last year and didn’t have any carries, though he did score on a touchdown reception in the 20-7 season-opening loss to Brigham Young.

    Throwing Mitchell into a situation where he can make use of the quickness he gained from being a part of Arizona’s backfield the past few seasons, coupled with his large frame, was the perfect combination for an explosive defensive lineman.

    “”He is learning a new position, but he has a lot of athleticism and speed along with his ability to play with great leverage,”” Stoops said. “”Learning how to become a great defensive tackle is something that takes a great deal of time.

    “”We feel like he is a very big athlete that can run and do a lot of positive things,”” Stoops added. “”We wanted to have him on the field as much as we can, and I think he makes our team better from that standpoint.””

    With spring drills kicking off last Saturday, Mitchell is still in the learning process and figuring out all the integral parts of becoming a successful defensive lineman, including things like proper footwork, formations, hand-movements and plays.

    All starters from last year’s front four are no longer with the team, so Mitchell and his fellow linemen are looking to make a name for themselves, maybe something along the lines of dominant.

    In order to accomplish the feat, something that hasn’t been mastered in Arizona for awhile, the entire group will need to be cohesive and attentive to each other’s needs and capabilities.

    Donald Horton, a 6-foot-5, 275-pound defensive tackle, had a vast enthusiasm for the upcoming possibilities the interior line holds. To him, their potential goes above and beyond the recent past at Arizona Stadium.

    “”It’s a whole new mindset this year. Guys just have a whole new perspective of what we are capable of,”” Horton said. “”We woke up and just smelled the coffee. This is football. It is supposed to be fun. We just want to go out there, hit somebody and hit some plays.””

    Horton has been impressed with Mitchell’s ability to catch on to the fundamental skills necessary to progress at the position, given the fact he has only been going through it for a handful of days.

    “”He is picking it up a lot faster than I would have thought,”” Horton said. “”Coming from the other side of the ball I thought it would take a while, but he really is coming along pretty fast.””

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