Wildcats Spring Report (April 7): Speedy alternative on D-Line

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By Anthony Gimino
Special to FOXSportsArizona.com

Posted: April 7

TUCSON — At its most extreme, the Arizona defense could go “Cheetah.”

That’s the name of a potential new pass-rushing package cooked up by co-defensive coordinators Tim Kish and Greg Brown this spring. The “Cheetah” could feature four defensive ends along the front and as many as six defensive backs in obvious passing situations.

That would be one super-speedy scheme.

D’Aundre Reed, who usually rotates at end with fellow seniors Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, is one of the keys to making it work.

Elmore had 10.5 sacks last season. Brooks Reed had 9.5 sacks in 2008 before suffering through an injury-plagued 2009. Those two need to be on the field, which has left D’Aundre Reed as a useful backup … but a backup nonetheless.

But when coaches saw how hard he was working in the offseason, and how he was putting on weight (in a good way), they started to wonder how he would look if he slid over to an inside position.

“He put on a good 10 pounds or so,” said defensive ends coach Jeff Hammerschmidt.

“What we saw was D’Aundre really gaining weight and doing a good job. In the past, he’s always had trouble gaining and maintaining. Now, he’s put on good weight and he looks like he is still fast and quick.

“On passing downs, I think he can really help us. He is strong enough and all that, too.”

Reed is listed at 258 pounds, 10 pounds more than his weight from last season.

The UA also is experimenting with using junior end Apai Tuihalamaka at an inside position next to Reed. This is the kind of scheme Arizona could use against a two-minute offense.

As the defense tries to find its way with a new starting linebacker corps and a mix-and-match secondary, the end position — especially the top three in the rotation — should be the strength of a rebuilding unit.

“They still have to understand that they have to step up and be the senior, lead-by-example guys,” Hammerschmidt said of his senior ends. “That’s what they’re really focusing on, trying to encourage other guys to do some things. That’s their role in this whole thing.”

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Coach Mike Stoops said Wednesday that Arizona’s quarterback position is “probably the strongest position on the field.”

There hasn’t been a quarterback controversy or anything like that, with returning starter Nick Foles holding on to the top job over backup Matt Scott. Third-stringer Bryson Beirne, a redshirt junior, is nice insurance.

“Nick really went to a different level this spring, along with Matt,” Stoops said.

“I think both of them are much more polished players, just seeing things quicker, reacting quicker, getting the ball out of their hands, throwing the ball down the field better — every aspect of their game. Their intelligence. I just think they are much more confident players.

“I think Bryson has made some positive steps as well in his limited reps. So we feel good.”

Stoops called Arizona’s receiver position the “next position I feel really good about.” It’s the Wildcats’ deepest group, headlined by junior Juron Criner (45 catches, nine touchdowns last season) and senior Delashaun Dean (42 catches). Each is 6-foot-4.

David Roberts and David Douglas return at the inside receiver positions, along with Bug Wright, who only scratched at his talent last season because of injuries. West Virginia transfer Gino Crump emerged in the spring, converted quarterback Richard Morrison has been impressive, and there’s also speedy Travis Cobb.

Junior college transfer Dexter Ransom, another 6-4 wideout, arrives in the fall.

All three of the top running backs — Nic Grigsby, Keola Antolin and Greg Nwoko — are adept at catching the ball.

Such a variety of offensive weapons is rare in Arizona’s Pac-10 history.

“Our skill is probably as good as it has ever been,” Stoops said.

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Arizona has two practices left — Thursday morning at Salpointe Catholic High School, and Saturday’s Spring Game, which begins at 1:30 at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats have been practicing on the FieldTurf at Salpointe for the past week while crews get the grass at Arizona Stadium in shape for the scrimmage. UA’s practice field is being renovated.