The Arizona Wildcats have a new coach in charge of the cornerbacks this season, with defensive coordinator Marcel Yates taking over for Donté Williams, who left for Nebraska.
Arizona’s personnel has not changed much, only losing DaVonte’ Neal, who eventually lost his starting job to Jace Whittaker just before the midway point of the season.
With redshirt senior Dane Cruikshank coming off his first season as a starter, the Wildcats have two solidified corners.
Key losses: DaVonte’ Neal
Key Returners: Dane Cruikshank, Jace Whittaker, Malcolm Holland, Lorenzo Burns, Antonio Parks, Sammy Morrison
Key Newcomers: Tony Wallace
Barring any injuries, which do happen frequently at Arizona, Cruikshank and Whittaker will likely be the starting corners all season long.
Cruikshank is a 6-foot-1, 204-pound corner with Pac-12 speed and great length to cover even the fastest and biggest wide receivers. At times, he struggles to look back for the ball, which often resulted in pass interference calls in favor of the wide receiver. Some of those balls weren’t even catchable, giving opposing teams an easy 15-yard advantage after the call.
With Whittaker, there’s a load of potential as he enters his junior campaign. He is not the biggest guy on the field at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, but has the fundamentals to be a lockdown corner. After starting just seven games last season, he led the team in pass deflections (11). He was able to quickly break on a ball or whip his head around to find it before it reaches the receivers’ hands.
With Marcel Yates now, these two should see strong improvements as the premier corners. Now for the remaining depth, it really comes down to what Yates likes in his corners on the field compared to that of Donté Williams.
Malcolm Holland won the trust of Williams late last season and made a few appearances in games, which is huge for a walk-on redshirt freshman. The former MLB draft pick finished with eight tackles on the season, and could be in line for more of a rotational role.
Next up on the two-deep will likely be Lorenzo Burns, who suffered a season-ending injury after the second game of the season, leading him to redshirt. He had a strong fall camp when he entered the program, and is now coming off a productive spring.
Now we get to Antonio Parks, the redshirt freshman who had been recovering from a torn ACL injury he suffered back in high school. Prior to his injury, he was an outstanding playmaker, and entering his second offseason, things have slowed down for him. This could be the year he makes an impact for Arizona’s defense.
Sammy Morrison is an interesting spot right now. He earned the starting role as a true freshman for the home opener back in 2015, and has been bothered by injuries ever since, coming off a torn hamstring which resulted in a redshirt year. Where he sits on the depth chart, and with Marcel Yates, is unknown.
Lee Pitts is an intriguing and notable walk-on. Coming out of Oaks Christian High School, Pitts is known as one of the more rounded walk-ons, who could be in line for a role this season.
And lastly is the newcomer Tony Wallace, who Arizona had to fight off Nebraska and USC to keep committed to National Signing Day. He overcame quite a bit of adversity in his high school career, which kept him off the football field for a while.
Depending on the progression of those above, there’s a chance that Wallace could come in and see some time. He’s extremely talented, just didn’t have a whole lot of film that colleges could see. And injuries could propel him into a role under Yates.
Yates has a long lineage of corners that he has sent to the NFL and it’ll be interesting to see what he can do in year one with the corners.
There is not a lot of depth here, with a two-deep that isn’t that experienced to begin with. But if Cruikshank and Whittaker can stay healthy throughout the entire season, like they did in 2016, Arizona’s secondary will be in good shape.