TUCSON ?C The University of Arizona football team held its third open practice and fourth over all for its 2007 Fall Camp on Sunday Night. Players donned shoulder pads and helmets for the second consecutive day.
Practice began at 5:30 p.m. as mostly cloudy skies and mild temperatures allowed for nearly perfect practice conditions at the Rincon Vista Complex. The Wildcats again worked through their daily drills, but the workout seemed a bit more spirited as players wore shells for the first time in front of the fans and media.
"Weˇ?re practicing well on both sides of the ball right now," Head Coach Mikes Stoops told the media following practice. I think weˇ?re improving on both sides of the ball."
While Stoops went on to mention continued improvement on the offensive side of the ball, the defense clearly asserted itself on Sunday, with big plays, especially from the teamˇ?s experienced linebacking corps.
After individual and group drills the first half hour of practice, the majority of the team (minus wide receivers and cornerbacks) came together for its "middle" drill segment. With shoulder pads added to the mix, the drills were much more physical than in the early days of camp.
Redshirt freshman Lolomana Mikaele got the hitting started for the defense on the fourth play of the drill, as he got penetration into the backfield and teamed up with linebacker Adrien McCovy to stop Xavier Smith for a loss. Later in the drill, Brandon Tatum came up from his safety position to record a tackle for loss as true freshman Nicholas Grigsby carried the ball.
Linebackers coach Tim Kish was pleased with the way the defense as a whole was tackling throughout drill, especially as a host of Wildcats stuffed Terry Longbons at the line of scrimmage on one play.
"I like the way weˇ?re squaring our pads," Kish exclaimed to the defense.
However, on the next play the offense would answer with some emotion of its own. With the second team offensive line in, Longbons found a crease and cutback for a sizable gain. Starting right tackle Eben Britton, who was not in the play, loved the way the second unit responded to the defenseˇ?s challenge, prompting him to congratulate the entire line. "Good work ˇ®Oˇ?! That a baby!" he yelled as he and the first team prepared to jump in for the next play.
The defense would reassert itself during 7-on-7 drills, as the offense struggled to find many openings in the defenseˇ?s various coverage schemes. Willie Tuitama completed his first three passes, but each was less than five yards.
On the next play, Tuitama scanned the field and looked to connect with Mike Thomas, but Spencer Larsen was dropping into his zone and stepped in and intercepted the pass.
Three plays later, Larsenˇ?s fellow linebacker, Ronnie Palmer, would get his hands on the football, too. As Tuitama threw towards Terrell Reese, Palmer stepped in front of the pass, deflected it, then ran under his own tip to snare the pass out of the air.
Later in the session, Tyler Lyon took the controls and also found the hands of a defender. On his second play, Xavier Kelley broke on a ball for the third interception by a linebacker in the drill.
The offense would strike back, however, as Lyon threaded a perfectly thrown pass to Reese, who hauled the pass in as he split defenders Marquis Hundley and Cam Nelson for a touchdown.
During 11-on-11 action, the two sides traded big plays throughout, but ultimately the defense had the upper hand.
Tuitama and the offense came out throwing on the first three plays, with two short gain completions and an incompletion. On the fourth play, Chris Jennings took a handoff from Tuitama, cutback into a hole and scampered free 10 yards through the defense before breaking into the open field.
The defense answered right back, as Larsen dropped Jennings for a loss on the very next play.
Next, it was the offenseˇ?s turn to respond. On the next snap, Tuitama dropped back looking down the right sideline where cornerback Wilrey Fontenot was running step-for-step with Mike Thomas. Tuitama tossed a perfectly thrown ball in over Thomasˇ? right shoulder, as the junior hauled in the pass for a 40-yard completion.
With Lyon at the controls, he, too, looked to go deep to Thomas. However, Thomas was unable to haul in a nicely thrown ball by the redshirt freshman quarterback down the left sideline.
On the next play, Thomas switched sides and Lyon again threw in his direction. This time, Thomas made a spectacular catch as he caught the ball in tight coverage down the right sideline for a 35-yard completion.
The defense capped off practice with a pair of big plays. As Tuitama and the offense worked on redzone offense situations, the junior signal caller lofted a ball to the corner of the endzone for Thomas. However, Hundley was in perfect position defensively and made a leaping interception to turn the offense away.
Then on the final play of the night, the defensive line got in the act, as Johnathon Turner forced his way into the backfield, recording a sack of Tuitama as the play was blown dead.
The Wildcats will be back out at Rincon Vista tomorrow evening. The fifth Fall Camp practice is set to being at 5:45 p.m. and will be open to the public and media. As always, times and location is subject to change due to weather and field conditions.
-Over 50 fans attended the rare Sunday evening workout.
-Devin Ross recorded the first interception of Fall Camp for the UA defense on Saturday during a closed workout.
-During the "middle" drill segment, Chris Jennings (5 carries), Xavier Smith (4), Nicholas Grigsby (4), Terry Longbons (2) and Glyndon Bolasky (3) carried the ball.
-During 7-on-7 drills, Tuitama completed 9-21 attempts. Tyler Lyon completed 4 of 5 throws.
-During 11-on-11 action, Tuitama completed 13-21 pass attempts. Lyon completed 2-4 attempts.
-In live PAT/FG work to start practice, Jason Bondzio and Alex Zendejas split the place-kicking duties. Bondzio hit on all three of his attempts (30, 33 and 36), while Zendejas missed his first try (30), before converting from 36 and 38 yards.
-Michael Thomas, Antoine Cason, William Wright, Mike Turner and B.J. Dennard fielded punts during the mid-practice special teams segment.
-UA offensive lineman Cory Elmore will be out indefinitely after undergoing a heart procedure over the summer to repair a hole in his heart. Elmore has watched each practice from the sidelines.
-Freshman Ron Jackson was at practice with and walking with some slight aid of crutches after dislocating his hip on Friday night.
-The team held a closed practice on Saturday, before hosting media day activites in McKale Center on Saturday afternoon.
-Saftey Nate Ness tweaked an ankle during 7-on-7 action as he broke up a pass in the drill. The slight ankle sprain did not appear serious, according to Stoops.
Cornerback Devin Ross:
On the defensive effort Sunday night:
"We came out fired up. Weˇ?re happy to get out here and correct our mistakes that we see in film room. We love coming out here and competing."
On playing behind seniors Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot:
"Right now Iˇ?m just out here competing for a spot. Iˇ?m doing everything thatˇ?s asked of me and am preparing myself for every situation."
On the senior leadership of Cason and Fontenot:
"The seniors have stepped up their leadership and are making sure everyone is focused. All of the seniors are ready to win and know the importance of practice."
Defensive tackle Lionel Dotson:
On the defenseˇ?s effort Sunday:
"I think we played pretty good. Our intensity and mental toughness was there tonight. The physical toughness is always there, but we have to play with intensity and be mentally tough all the time, too."
On being one of the teamˇ?s emotional leaders:
"I bring energy. I try to bring as much energy as I can and I try to be as intense as I can. Energy and intensity make you work harder, and the harder you work the more mentally tough you become. I try to do everything as hard as I can every time."
On the offensive line:
"Oh, they have gotten better; a lot better. They are going to be good, in my opinion. They are definitely making us work harder than ever before."