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Arizona football: DaVonte' Neal brings energy with him to defensive side of the ball

A little jolt of energy at the corner position for Arizona this spring

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

You would think on National Signing Day that the biggest football news for a program would have to do with the recruiting class that the team was bringing in.

But that wasn't the case for the Arizona Wildcats this year. During his NSD press conference, Rich Rodriguez announced that DaVonte' Neal would be moving from wide receiver to cornerback in 2015.

Since the day he set foot on campus, Neal has been one of the more outspoken players in practice, and always had a certain energy about him.

Well, with his move to defense, a whole new group of guys got a taste of what he's all about.

"He came over to the dark side," DeAndre' Miller joked.

"I love it," added Jamar Allah. "I played with him in high school. He likes to chat it up just like me, so I like having him over here."

"Jamar talks a lot too," Devin Holiday continued. "It's kind of the same thing."

"It's fun, because at first I didn't know he was coming to the defensive side of the ball," Kwesi Mashack added. "But when he first got here, it really livened up the atmosphere."

Learning a new position hasn't always been easy this spring for Neal though, and that kind of silenced him a little bit during the first part of the semester.

"He's not as vocal now cuz he's learning," Rich Rodriguez said just before Spring Break. "It's hard to talk when you're head's spinning sometimes, but he loves to play and comes out here every day and gives a good effort."

But now as Spring Practice winds down, it seems Neal has found some inner-confidence at corner, and has impressed the coaches with what he's done in such a short time.

"It's been good," Rodriguez said of the change on Wednesday. "I think he's been learning. He's probably relishing that he runs probably a third as much as he did as a wideout, so his legs are probably a lot fresher. I think the summer skill development part will help as well."

"I'm having a lot of fun over on defense," Neal explained. "It's taken a little bit to get used to, taken a little time to get back into the flow, but that's what I expected to happen."

Sure, Neal played corner a little bit in high school, but this is a whole new animal for him. He already has the ball skills as players like Miller, Will Parks and Devin Holiday have said, but learning how to cover college receivers has a huge learning curve.

"Getting my eyes out of the back field," Neal said of the biggest adjustment he's had to make. "I'm so used to running my routes and turning around and looking for the ball. Whereas defense, you're playing off reactions, and you have your assignment and you do your assignment. So that's the biggest thing for me. Also making the breaks and coming out of my breaks."

With the wide variety of receivers Arizona has on the offensive side of the ball, going up against those guys every practice helps DaVonte' improve as a corner probably more than if he were on almost any other team in the country.

"It helps cuz we have some great guys at receiver," he continued. "We have great size as well. We have Cayleb Jones, and David Richards and Trey Griffey, so it's good to go up against the big guys and see how the different techniques you can use against the bigger guys work as well as the smaller guys like Samajie (Grant) and Nate (Phillips)."

"We get all types of looks for when the season actually starts," added Mashack. "So if we have to play a team with tight ends, we've already done that. Or super fast guys, we've already done that. So that helps a lot."

As long as the progression continues, don't be surprised to see DaVonte' Neal starting at cornerback for Arizona come September, across from either Cam Denson or Jarvis McCall.