Feature: Wildcats Off to Good Start on Gridiron

Aug. 6, 2007

By Lance Madden
Arizona Daily Wildcat

August 6, 2007

Tucson, AZ (CSTV U-WIRE) -- Senior cornerback Antoine Cason stepped in front of a swarm of media after Arizona's first fall football practice Thursday.

Before the first question was asked, he looked into one of the three news cameras, adjusted his navy blue 'do rag, flashed a smile and asked, 'Everything look alright? Am I decent?'

Cason looked fine, and so did the rest of the team.

Junior quarterback Willie Tuitama showed up 25 pounds lighter than he was midway through last season, while defensive end Louis Holmes had a clean haircut: no mohawk, no red dye. Changes were made en masse.

But the biggest change came in the form of the new Air Zona offense, which proved to be successful during the first week of practice at the Rincon Vista Complex.

The first-day success gave Arizona's new offensive coordinator, Sonny Dykes, some hope heading into a month of arduous workouts before the first game of the season Sept. 1 at Brigham Young.

'We felt like it was important to start out on a high note and improve from there,' he said. 'We executed well on the first day. If we can continue to improve the way we have, we've got a chance.'

Tuitama launched passes to a plethora of receivers during a 7-on-7 skeleton passing period on the first day, completing 14 of 18 attempts. Anthony Johnson snagged a pass one-handed, and Terrell Turner caught one 25 yards downfield behind the defense. There were no fumbles and no picks.

'We came out here and competed right from the get-go,' Tuitama said. 'The last couple of years we've been slow starting out. It took four or five days into camp to start clicking. (On Thursday) I thought we did a pretty good job.'

Tuitama and Dykes both agreed that they did well against their own defense, a success they believe will make them better against other defensive lines in the Pacific 10 Conference.

'Out here, we're throwing against probably the best defense in the Pac-10, I don't care what anybody says,' Tuitama said. 'If we can beat these guys, then we can beat anybody.'

With loud, animated huddles that end in a unified 'Pac-10 champs,' Tuitama pointed out a new sense of camaraderie among his teammates. Arizona's offensive players are all staying on the second and fourth floors of a UA dorm during camp, leaving the defenders on the third floor.

'We don't even see them,' Tuitama said.

Plenty of competition for spots

Outside of being successful as a team, there was a major incentive for nearly everyone on the squad to practice hard: earning a starting role.

On the surface, there doesn't seem to be too many position battles with 19 starters back from last year's 6-6 team, but the coaches have warned all the players they are replaceable.

'I think our players were more focused and seemed more determined than at any point in the spring,' Dykes said. 'We are bigger up front. I really thought it was a good starting point.'

The coaches agreed that the competition for spots was due to a wealth of talent on the team.

'We have (about) eight guys between the fullbacks and the tight ends,' tight ends coach Dana Dimel said. 'I told the guys - and it's true - 'The majority of you guys would be starting for 85 percent of the Division-I schools across the country.' '

Not everyone present

Arizona began practices without four recruits: freshman Levar Brown and junior college transfers Derick Barkum (wide receiver), Joseph Perkins (safety) and Vuna Tuihalamaka (linebacker), according to Friday's Arizona Daily Star.

Tuihalamaka, a linebacker, was cleared to participate in preseason drills Friday, but the others still await word from the NCAA Clearinghouse, the Star reported.

Injury report

There were no injuries on the first day of camp, but the Wildcats were not as fortunate on Friday.

Defensive end Ron Jackson was taken off the field at the end of practice in an ambulance with dislocated hip

Jackson is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound freshman from Creekview High School in Carrollton, Texas. He was a Texas All-District 6 first-team selection last year.

His leg was popped back into place at University Medical Center, and he was given a stiff foam brace to avoid another dislocation, according to Saturday's Arizona Daily Star.

'I think I'll be OK,' Jackson told the Star.

Special guests

Cornerback Robert Golden, who has already committed to UA for 2008, observed Friday's practice. Wearing black shoes with gold Nike swooshes, he sported a white UA football T-shirt.

Golden, from Edison High School in Fresno, Calif., is rated a top-100 player nationally by www.rivals.com.

Golden was not the only new Wildcat present. Stoops' wife, Nicole, and their two children, Payton and Colton, brought out the family's new puppy, Jesse, a male pug.

(C) 2007 Arizona Daily Wildcat via CSTV U-WIRE

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