Editor’s note: This is the last in a weeklong positional preview series. We looked at Arizona’s personnel at each spot and broke it down. Today, we finish with cornerbacks and safeties.
Arizona’s defensive backs don’t need to be told again — there are a lot of good quarterbacks in the Pac-12.
They know 10 teams return last year’s starter and most have some serious talent. They’re also not all that worried about it.
“Yeah, I mean there are a lot of good quarterbacks in our league, but it’s more about us,” free safety Jourdon Grandon said. “We just need to play the way we play and get better and everything will be good.”
The Wildcats open fall camp today with a bit of a mix in the secondary. Arizona returns all three starting safeties from last year, but just one cornerback — Jonathan
McKnight — who saw extended playing time in 2013.
McKnight will try to help the inexperienced personnel at his position through camp and hopes a few are ready for those Pac-12 quarterbacks come September.
The veteran safeties, on the other hand, will try to perfect their craft over the next four weeks.
Here’s a closer look at Arizona’s secondary.
McKnight and Cam Denson
Backups: Devin Holiday and Jarvis McCall
Breakdown: Barring an injury, McKnight is locked into his spot and should be the starter all season.
He started all 13 games last season and has 22 career starts.
McKnight is not flashy and had some rough patches last season, but he is solid and provides a wealth of experience for a young group. He had 54 tackles, eight pass breakups and two interceptions last season.
After McKnight, the other cornerback spot is less certain.
Denson will get the first crack at the position opposite McKnight. Though he was lauded as a receiver coming out of Salpointe Catholic, Arizona coaches believe Denson is ready to help them in the secondary right away. At 5-11, 168, he needs to add some muscle to his frame, and has plenty of time to do it.
His biggest competition this fall will come from Holiday. The sophomore from San Diego played in all 13 games last season and had seven tackles and an interception.
Like Denson, Holiday, listed at 5-10, 162, also needs to put on weight. His lack of strength hurt him at times last season.
Whoever ends up not starting between Denson and Holiday will probably shift to the nickel corner spot and still get some game reps.
McCall, a redshirt last season, and Patrick Glover, a junior college transfer, will also try to forge their way into the competition at the other corner spot.
Quotable: “The quarterback group in the Pac-12 is the best group in the country. You’ll see that in May at the NFL draft. All those guys can play. So it’s going to be a test for our corners every week against these quarterbacks. We have to be able to shut them down and hold our own back there.” — Coach Rich Rodriguez
Starters: Jared Tevis, Tra’Mayne Bondurant and Jourdon Grandon
Backups: Will Parks, Anthony Lopez and Jamar Allah
Breakdown: The safety spot is by far Arizona’s deepest and most experienced position on defense. All three starters return from last season, plus Parks, who could see time at all three positions.
Bondurant is Arizona’s biggest playmaker on defense and one of the teams few difference-makers. He has seven interceptions and 22 tackles-for-loss in 36 career games.
The Vallejo, California, native bulked up in the offseason and is listed on the roster at 216 pounds. He finished last season at 198.
Grandon and Tevis also provide a lot of experience. Grandon, who started all 13 games last season and had 73 tackles and two picks, has taken on more of a leadership role at the urging of his coaches.
Tevis missed two games last season because of injury, but he still totaled 83 tackles and forced three fumbles. He will need to hold off Parks, who has become a presence in his first two seasons.
Parks, defensive MVP of the AdvoCareV100 Bowl, may be the most athletic of all the safeties and had 31 tackles in four starts last year.
Lopez, Allah, Yamen Sanders and Tellas Jones provide even more depth at safety and should all contribute on special teams.
Quotable: “We take a lot of pride in the depth and talent we’ve developed the last few years. I think it revolves around us older guys the most. We’ve all played a lot of games together and started a lot of games together.
“We’ve been helping out the young guys since they got here, so we continue to try to build them. But we do take pride in what we do as a defense and as a defensive backfield.” — Tevis