The Arizona Wildcats were inconsistent at cornerback last season, to say the least. Arizona went through a lot of corners last year, whether that was because of injury or just poor performance. Now, Rich Rodriguez will be looking for three or four corners to help solidify the secondary. Arizona will be without Cam Denson and Jarvis McCall given their position changes, but will still have about eight guys ready to go for the season.
"I think we're going to have more guys ready to play," Rodriguez said about his defensive backs. "I think we lost confidence at one point and played like we didn't have a lot of confidence."
That might be bound to happen considering the fact that Arizona had different guys starting almost every week, including many who didn't have nearly as much Pac-12 experience as you'd like. Sammy Morrison came in as a true freshman and started, DaVonté Neal had just flipped over to defense, and Jace Whittaker was a true freshman. But the new defensive staff is ready to get things rolling.
"So far this spring Coach Williams and Coach Yates have done a good job, playing with a little more confidence getting their hands on the ball a little more, so I think we'll be able to find three or four guys who can help us," Rodriguez added.
"They've come out and work, they have," Jahmile Addae, cornerback coach said after practice on Thursday. "I don't want to say we're where we want to be, we all know that's bull crap. But at the same time I think we're working our asses off to be where we want to be."
Multiple guys on defense have said that Dane Cruikshank is the guy to watch out for. But with the new depth, his prior junior college experience and one year in the system to get acclimated with Pac-12, Dane has been able to put in the work and shine.
"[My teammates] know what I'm capable of doing," Cruikshank said about his recent development. "I just feel like my teammates fully believe in me, just like I believe in them. They've been watching me and I've been putting in a lot of overtime trying to get bigger, stronger, faster."
"I was making a lot of plays during practice and they were seeing that."
Now, Cruikshank could be in a position to earn a starting role, far different than the position he was in last fall.
"I had seen where I was at the depth chart [last fall], I had a little injury. I just talked to Coach Rich Rod about redshirting and we both just thought it was the best thing to do, just so I could learn a little faster. I was learning at a slow pace and now I'm right in the mix," Cruikshank said about his redshirt experience.
And during that redshirt year, he was able to learn a lot. It also helps that he was going up against some of the best receivers in the Pac-12, day in and day out.
"I have a little more experience guarding guys like Cayleb Jones, David Richards, Johnny Jackson," Cruikshank explained. "I was on the scout team so I was going up against those guys every day so I just feel prepared to go out and guard anyone now,"
He also noted that Samajie Grant is the hardest to cover, who seems to be the consensus pick among all corners I've talked to.
Coming in as a junior college transfer, this is his first spring practice at Arizona. The transition phase is over for Cruikshank, so now it's all about fundamentals, what Rich Rodriguez has been preaching this entire spring.
"Just trying to get better every day, the tempo, the offense, just getting my eyes right and getting my backpedal back together, just the little things," Dane said about his spring practices thus far.
"They're great," Cruikshank said about the new defensive coaching staff. "We have a new scheme and I don't really want to talk too much about it but it's looking really good and putting us in position to make a lot more plays. The players are mostly excited to get everything going again. We didn't have the season we wanted last season. But this season we're trying to bring it up a notch so we'll see."
The corner situation will be interesting to watch play out. The recent news of Jarvis McCall switching over to safety opens things up. Cam Denson switching to offense also helps gets guys closer to the field. Jace Whittaker started a few games late last season as a freshman. Devin Holiday and Kwesi Mashack have been in the works as well. Sammy Morrison was a starting corner in the season opener, but didn't see the field much after battling through in injury during the non-conference schedule and Devon Brewer is a guy the staff liked last spring, who can be used a utility defensive back.
DaVonté Neal seems like the best option at corner as of now and I would think that Dane Cruikshank ends up starting opposite of him. But the way the depth looks, it could be a heavy rotation of corners to get constantly keep fresh legs on the field.