David Lockwood remembers his first impression of free safety Jourdon Grandon two years ago. It wasn’t the most flattering thought in the world

“I thought ‘good player; needs to grow up,’ ” said Lockwood, who coaches Arizona’s cornerbacks and free safeties. “He was more of a follower than a leader.”

That was just two short springs ago, but feels a lot longer to Lockwood.

Now the coach relies on Grandon for just about everything.

“He’s matured so much,” Lockwood said. “He’s a smart kid, on the field and off of it. He’s starting to recognize certain tendencies and stuff and can make all the calls for the defense. The way he is now, he should have been like that a year ago or two years ago. But he’s doing it now and that’s what matters. He’s being a leader and he’s having some fun.”

Grandon is one of four returning starters in the secondary along with cornerback Jonathan McKnight and safeties Jared Tevis and Tra’Mayne Bondurant. The four seniors-to-be are expected to lead one of the more experienced position groups for the Wildcats in 2014.

“The previous two springs, you’d have to slow down and explain things,” Lockwood said. “Now we can coach more off the film. It’s been good. You’re able to put new wrinkles in here, wrinkles in there.”

Combined, Grandon, McKnight, Tevis and Bondurant have 100 career starts.

The four helped the Wildcats’ pass defense improve drastically in 2013. In 2012, the UA gave up 292.8 yards per game through the air. Last season, that number dropped to 233.2.

Grandon started all 13 games last season and had a career-best 73 tackles and two interceptions. He also added six pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

The veteran from Avondale is enjoying his first full taste of spring drills since 2011. In 2012, Grandon was suspended for most of the spring after an off-field incident and then missed most of last year’s spring drills after suffering an injury during the first week.

The Star talked to the safety about this spring, becoming a leader and being comfortable with Lockwood.

On how the spring is going: “It’s new for me. Last spring, I got hurt and missed most of the spring. The spring before that, I got into a little off-the-field issue and missed that spring. So this is like going into my second year all over again. But this is a big spring for me. I have to come in and get better every practice. It sounds cliché and easy to say, but that’s been my goal. To come out every single day and get a little better.”

On being a leader: “I think it’s clicked in my head that I’m one of the older guys now and people look to me and they go off my energy and off my mentality and how I come out here and carry myself. So I feel like if I don’t come out here and give my best then the people looking up to me will be like ‘well, Jourdon isn’t doing anything, so I guess I’m going to do what he’s doing.’ So that’s kept me going.”

On having such a veteran secondary: “It’s just nice that the chemistry is there. We don’t even have to make the on-field calls with each other. We already know we’re on the same page. We already know what each person is doing. We can look at a formation and know what we’re going to get. It’s just about maturing and everyone else around me being mature. It just helps a lot with my job.”

On beginning his third year with Lockwood: “I’m going on my third year with these coaches and that’s the most I’ve had since I’ve been here. When I first got here, we had Coach (Greg) Brown and then Coach Ryan (Walters) and then Coach (Duane) Akina for a couple of weeks. This is my first coach I’ve had for multiple seasons. We’re getting what he wants down and the way he teaches down. We’re light years ahead of where we were when (Lockwood) first got here. It’s crazy. And I think we still have a lot of room for improvement.”

Contact reporter Daniel Berk at dberk@azstarnet.com or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk