Greg Byrne's Wildcat Wednesday
Defense Living Up To High Expectations
By: Arizona Athletics
Release: August 16, 2006
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TUCSON, Ariz. ?- The University of Arizona football team completed its 14th practice of Fall Camp on Tuesday evening. The practice began right at 4:45 p.m., after being moved up an hour early.


The Wildcats again worked through their daily individual, group, special teams, 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. Players donned only shoulder pads and helmets for the second practice in a row.


While most of the time statistics from practice situations are most easily kept for the offense, due to limited full contact and early whistles on plays, the Arizona defense is beginning to live up to the high expectations set for it this season.


“I really like our intensity on the defensive side of the ball,” defensive coordinator Mark Stoops following practice. “I like our enthusiasm. We’re getting better up front. Our secondary is playing very well, and we’re getting some consistency at linebacker now that we are healthy.”


Coach Stoops has been very pleased with the play of the defensive line, a unit he puts a lot of pressure on.


“It all starts up front,” he added. “We are always challenging those guys to be tougher. They are working extremely hard. We are only going to be as good as the guys up front.”


One of the players emerging along the front four is junior defensive tackle Lionel Dotson. On consecutive plays in tonight’s practice, Dotson got a strong push into the offensive backfield, forcing quarterback Willie Tuitama out of the pocket.


Dotson, who began his UA career at defensive end, has been impressed with the attitude of the entire team this fall particularly the defense.


“This is the best training camp we’ve had here,” Dotson said. “Everyone is upbeat and flying around to the football. Everyone is having fun.”


Fellow defensive lineman Marcus Smith, who lines up at defensive end, has noticed increased expectations and knows how to live up to those expectations.


“The expectations are pretty high,” Smith said. “I don’t remember having expectations this high.”


“Up front, we have to stay focused,” he added. “We have to stay in our gaps and get pressure on the quarterback. That’s our job.”


The more pressure the defensive front can put on opposing quarterbacks, the easier the jobs will be for perhaps the most well known defensive unit ?- the defensive backs.


With three returning starters back, including both cornerbacks, talent and experience are aplenty in Arizona’s secondary. Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot have locked down their starting spots at opposite corners, and strong safety Michael Johnson has showed his tremendous talent throughout camp.


The only question marks for the secondary - if they can be called question marks - are the free safety spot and depth behind the two junior corners.


“Darrell (Brooks) is a hard guy to replace,” Stoops said, referring to the Wildcats’ leader and team captain from a year ago. “We need to continue to improve at the free safety spot.”


Coach Stoops does have his options to choose from, as Dominic Patrick and Brandon Tatum have received the most reps with the first team. Junior college transfer Nate Ness is also receiving consideration.


At cornerback, the Wildcats have three very talented true freshmen, who continue to learn day-by-day. While they may lack experience, they provide talented depth at a position that has lacked depth in recent years.


“It’s going to take time to develop the young guys,” Stoops said of the freshman trio - Devin Ross, Michael Turner and Cam Nelson - who have each received reps with the second team defense. “But we do have talent (behind Cason and Fontenot) for the first time since we’ve been here.”


It has been a solid camp thus far for the Wildcats’ defense, but there is still work to do before the season opener on Sept. 2nd against BYU. They will hit the practice field again tomorrow for the fourth two-a-day practice of fall camp, with a morning session at 8 a.m. and an evening workout at 6 p.m.


NOTES: Head coach Mike Stoops took a second straight day off from addressing the media ... Another perfect evening for practice out at Rincon Vista with temperatures in the mid-80s, breezy conditions, and mostly cloudy skies making conditions even more comfortable ... After having last Tuesday’s practice shortened due to severe thunderstorms, every practice since has been completed uninterrupted ... In today’s 7-on-7 passing period, Willie Tuitama completed six of 10 pass attempts, including a 30-yard throw and catch to Syndric Steptoe. Adam Austin completed four of his seven attempts ... In the 11-on-11 team segment, the offense got off to a quick start. Tuitama dropped back for his first pass attempt in the drill and delivered a perfect pass 40 yards down the right sideline to B.J. Dennard, who hauled in the catch. In good position but unable to breakup the play was Antoine Cason, who took a hard fall. He remained on the ground, seemingly in pain, for a few moments, but popped back up and stayed in for the next play. A collective sigh of relief could be felt around the practice facility ... Tuitama completed four of his five pass attempts, but was unable to get a throw off on two of his last three pass plays, as Lionel Dotson, Marcus Smith and Louis Holmes provided pressure.


Remaining Fall Football Practice Schedule



Wednesday       Aug. 16      8 a.m., 6:00 p.m.

Thursday           Aug. 17      5:45 p.m.

Friday                 Aug. 18      8 a.m., 6:15 p.m.

Saturday            Aug. 19      Meet the Team,

                                             Evening scrimmage

Monday              Aug. 21      Classes begin

Monday              Aug. 28      Mike Stoops’

                                             weekly news conference

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