Greg Byrne's Wildcat Wednesday
Spring Football: Don?t Forget About the Defense
By: Arizona Athletics
Release: March 27, 2007
Photo Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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TUCSON ?- Week two of spring practice began with another physical, full-pad workout at the Jimenez Practice Facility on Monday afternoon. With the majority of the playbooks implemented on both sides of the ball, today’s practice offered the UA coaches an opportunity to emphasize more of the intricacies of the schemes.


“It was another good day for us,” head coach Mike Stoops said following practice as he addressed the media. “I’m pleased with the way we are practicing and the way we are progressing. We have stayed healthy, which is the key.”


While much of the hype during the first week of practice (at least in the media) was centered on Arizona’s new spread, multiple-attack offense, the Wildcat defense has continued to improve and build depth. A unit that forced 26 turnovers a year ago and ranked third in the Pac-10 in scoring defense, the UA defense looks to be just as good, if not much better this coming season.


Returning are 10 full-time starters, plus several keys reserves who saw significant playing time in the fall of 2006. Among those reserves is safety Mike Klyce, who intercepted three passes late in the season after NFL prospect Michael Johnson went down with a hamstring injury. Klyce joins veterans Antoine Cason and Dominic Patrick working in the first-string defensive backfield.


Cornerback Wilrey Fontenot is nursing a shoulder injury and is not participating in contact drills this spring, which is allowing junior college transfer Marquis Hundley an opportunity to work with the first team at cornerback. Cam Nelson continues to get significant reps as the Wildcats’ primary nickel back, while Michael Turner and Brandon Tatum are working in at the corner and safety spots, respectively.  


Despite the talent in the secondary, the front seven could prove to be the heart and sole of the Wildcat defense. With Lionel Dotson out for the spring (shoulder), but providing plenty of vocal and emotional support from the sidelines, redshirt freshman Mana Mikaele is getting reps with the first team unit, joining Yaniv Barnett in the middle. Ends Louis Holmes, Jason Parker and Johnathan Turner return as experienced players with plenty of starting experience. Behind them, redshirt freshmen Ricky Elmore and D’aundre Reed look to push for playing time, bringing improved strength and explosiveness off the edge from their respective debuts last August in Fall Camp.


Perhaps the most experienced unit on the field for Arizona is its linebacking core. Spencer Larsen and Dane Krogstad return as senior starters, and Ronnie Palmer anchors the middle with increased knowledge and confidence.


“Our experience at linebacker is invaluable,” Stoops said. “Ronnie Palmer is probably our most improved player. He has had a whole season and off-season now to get more comfortable.”


One of the benefits of the new offensive attack is that it is helping the UA defense get a first-hand look at a similar approach to a number of teams on the upcoming schedule.


“BYU, Washington State and Oregon spread us out like this last year,” Larsen said. “It is definitely going to help us some seeing this in practice.”


Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops echoed similar sentiments about the system.


“All I know is when we have played other teams with this offense, it is one of the toughest to prepare for,” he said.


“This offense is forcing us to work in space,” added Larsen. “It is making us really focus on tackling and covering in space across the whole field. There is a lot of emphasis on technique.”


The Wildcats will take Tuesday off from the practice field and return on Wednesday for the fifth of 15 practices allowed by the NCAA. The team will practice on Friday afternoon as well, before holding a scrimmage in Arizona Stadium on Saturday. The scrimmage will be open for fans and media, and will start at approximately 10 a.m.


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