Greg Byrne's Wildcat Wednesday
Outlook 8 - Secondary is a Primary Strength
By: Arizona Athletics
Release: April 11, 2007
Photo Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Coach: Mark Stoops, Defensive Coordinator


Senior cornerback Antoine Cason, a Jim Thorpe Award finalist and candidate for the Ronnie Lott Trophy as a junior, returns to spearhead a senior-laden group in the secondary, joined by corner Wilrey Fontenot and free safety Dominic Patrick. Cason and Fontenot have three-years’ experience as starters and each has played almost the entire time ?- Cason all but five scrimmage plays. They’ve seen it all and understand coordinator Mark Stoops’ play calling and coverage schemes to the max.


Their strength on the perimeter, and Patrick’s improvement will help bring along the fourth choice in the backfield at strong safety, where a number of young players will vie. The top contender is redshirt freshman Cam Nelson, but redshirt sophomore Brandon Tatum, junior Michael Klyce and sophomore Corey Hall all have some experience.


Wilrey Fontenot goes up for the pick
Junior college transfer Nate Ness redshirted 2006, as did freshman corner Mike Turner, and along with mid-year juco transfer Marquis Hundley, the UA secondary will be deep, effective and as talented as it’s been since Chris McAlister helped lead the 1998 Arizona team to its best-ever season. Hundley took the bulk of work in spring while Fontenot rehabilitated following off-season shoulder surgery. He may redshirt this year to get a full-season’s development. Nelson has the ability to play corner in his stead.


Cason, named a preseason Playboy All-American in early April, should garner similar postseason honors. He’s been a fixture of UA’s defense since Stoops’ first camp and basically typifies the resurgence of the program. His leadership, beginning as a true freshman in 2004, stays at the forefront in 2007. His development is what UA’s program is all about ?- developing quality players.


He’s the standard bearer for that focus, along with fellow corner Fontenot and tackle Lionel Dotson ?- the first four-year defensive starters in the program. (On offense, tackle Peter Graniello and receiver Anthony Johnson are others). Cason’s the handpicked guy, however, as the others redshirted their first season in 2003.


A year ago in the secondary a question was who would replace departed all-league safety Darrell Brooks. Patrick stepped up in spring and locked the position down, and turned in a ball-vicinity job of note, with 59 tackles and six pass breakups. His physical play made a difference, and will more in his senior year.  He missed most of spring with a foot injury but will be ready in the fall to infuse his hard-hitting style.


Another key is that UA expects to have help via more pressure up front to cause opposing QBs to make more mistakes.  That kind of disruptive play at Oregon last year helped the squad snag four game-turning interceptions including two by Klyce in a backup start for injured safety Michael Johnson. Johnson will ply his trade in the NFL beginning in 2007.  


Antoine Cason

Dominic Patrick

Cam Nelson


In 2007 the nickel back role, trading for a linebacker, should go to one of the strong safeties, likely Nate Ness according to Mike Stoops. It’s a key role that has been filled by Marcus Hollingsworth for the past two years. Even there, UA will have depth and other options.


More depth and play-making ability returns in sophomore corner Devin Ross. He missed part of spring practice for team and personal reasons. He has cover talent and lettered on special teams as a true freshman, with seven tackles. Plus, he showed some breakaway ability with a pair of kick returns for 30 yards apiece.


Michael Klyce Corey Hall Brandon Tatum
Marquis Hundley Mike Turner Devin Ross


There’s little question that first-team All-Pac-10 selection Cason is the leader and the focal point of the group in the defensive backfield.  The good news is that more help from the front and linebacker corps should help the secondary improve.



Top Defensive Backs


Antoine Cason, 6-0, 182, Sr., 3L

Wilrey Fontenot, 5-9, 175, Sr., 3L

Mike Turner, 5-11, 180, Fr-RS

Marquis Hundley, 5-11, 185, Jr-JC

Devin Ross, 5-11, 180, So., 1L

Fall Recruit: Trevin Wade, 5-11, 165, Fr.


Dominick Patrick, 6-1, 207, Sr., 3L

Cam Nelson, 6-1, 180, So., 1L

Nate Ness, 6-1, 190, Jr-RS

Brandon Tatum, 6-1, 181, So-RS, 1L

Michael Klyce, 6-0, 193, Jr., 1L

Corey Hall, 5-10, 15, So., 1L


Position Notes... Cason has 10 career interceptions and could put himself among UA’s career top five with a normal year (four more picks). The current top five are All-Americans ?- Chuck Cecil, Jackie Wallace, Chris McAlister, Darryll Lewis and Allan Durden. Cason’s signature interception was a game-lock return for a score against No. 8 Cal a year ago... Cason considered entering the NFL draft a year early, but held a news conference early in the year ?- to the Stoops’ relief ?- to announce his return... Senior corner Fontenot was sidelined for spring recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. That doesn’t affect his status, after starting and playing nearly all the time for his first three seasons... Junior Michael Klyce added a third interception to his pair at Oregon, against ASU, to tie Cason for the season lead... Michael Johnson is rated among the top 10 safeties in the NFL draft... One part of practice nearly always draws the attention of head coach Stoops. He often joins his brother during the instructional, assignment-oriented unit work with the DBs...

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