At 6 feet 3 inches and 220 pounds, Arizona Wildcats sophomore Marquis Flowers plays safety dangerously.
"He's definitely a physical freak of nature," defensive backs coach Ryan Walters said. "He's as big as our linebackers but runs as fast as any DB we have."
It's scary, then, that Flowers has one goal during training camp: Play even faster.
The quicker he can react, Flowers says, the more it proves that he has mastered the Wildcats' often-complicated defense. The faster Flowers plays, the less he thinks - and the harder he hits.
"I'm still getting there. I've got a lot of work to do," Flowers said. "I'm playing fast on some plays, but on other plays I'm still adjusting."
At any speed, the 19-year-old Flowers figures to be a key to the Wildcats' retooled defense this fall.
He capped Tuesday's practice with a leaping deflection on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. On Wednesday morning, he broke up a pair of passes to thwart the offense's two-minute drill.
Flowers is starting to live up to the promise that made him a U.S. Army All-American as a senior at Phoenix Millennium High School. He played in every game as a UA freshman in 2010, racking up 11 tackles - most of them coming on special teams. He assumed the starting job in spring drills and has gotten better by the month.
Walters, who is in his first year as a full-time assistant, says Flowers "has definitely improved" since the start of training camp. Given that he's training against All-America candidate Juron Criner and University of Texas transfer Dan Buckner in practice most days, Flowers can consider himself battle-tested.
Coach Mike Stoops is already predicting good things.
"We always knew Marquis was an outstanding player," he said. "The first year is always the hardest. Now he feels more comfortable in our system."
Walters said: "When he does know what he's doing, it's scary, man. The kid's a phenomenal athlete and a physical presence."
That's high praise, especially considering that both Stoops and Walters played safety in college.
Flowers said he doesn't mind the extra attention. He's learning the same way he's playing - fast.
"Knowing all my calls and my assignments, I'm getting comfortable," Flowers said with a smile. "I'm way more comfortable."
TRAINING CAMP INSIDER
Day 12, at Rincon Vista
• Highlights: The Wildcats' third "two-a-day" in five days was probably their best. The defense continues to make strides against a passing attack that's been dominant throughout the first two weeks of camp. Defensive tackle Kirifi Taula scuffled with an offensive lineman during 11-on-11 drills, then made him pay by sacking the quarterback on the next play. Safety Mark Watley intercepted a pass during the night practice, adding to a two-pick morning effort. Tra'Mayne Bondurant, a freshman defensive back, continues to impress coaches with his grasp of the system; he played nickel back Wednesday. Safety Marquis Flowers broke up two passes during the two-minute drill portion of the morning practice. Jaime Salazar ended the first workout with a field goal, a "do-over" after projected starter Alex Zendejas missed his attempt. Richard Morrison made a half-dozen stellar plays during Wednesday's two-a-day, though he's still probably third, behind receivers Juron Criner and Gino Crump, for camp MVP among the wide receivers.
• Weather: 96 degrees in the evening practice, 10 degrees warmer than in the morning workout
• Injury report: Quarterback Matt Scott rejoined the team Wednesday after missing two practices with strep throat. Fellow QB Bryson Beirne and nickel back Jourdon Grandon are out indefinitely with knee sprains. Wide receiver Dan Buckner, running back Keola Antolin and defensive end Mohammed Usman were held out for precautionary reasons. Safety Adam Hall, linebacker Jake Fischer, running back Greg Nwoko and defensive tackle Willie Mobley are all recovering from offseason knee surgeries.
• Up next: Arizona will practice today from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Rincon Vista.
• He said it: "It was a better practice today all the way around. For a two-a-day, I thought our guys moved around better, were more focused and got more out of practice. We're getting there." - coach Mike Stoops
Coming Aug. 28
The Star's 2011 college football preview section.
• Season opener: Sept. 3 vs. NAU, 7 p.m. at Arizona Stadium