UA cornerbacks look to improve upon last season
The current college football landscape has forced defensive coordinators to game plan drastically different than even just 10 years ago. The amount of spread offenses and empty backfield sets are the primary offensive sets for many college football teams around the nation, especially in the Pac-12 Conference.
With so many top tier quarterbacks coming through the ranks recently, team scores approach the 40s and 50s on a regular basis.
This puts enormous pressure on defensive coaches as they try to combat those high-powered offenses.
Specifically, cornerbacks receive the brunt of criticism when a defense is torched for considerable passing yards or touchdowns. Cornerback is, arguably, the toughest position to play on the defensive side of the game.
Arizona redshirt freshman Jarvis McCall Jr. (29) answers questions from the media after practice at Arizona Stadium on Tuesday. McCall Jr. has been named a starter at cornerback for the Friday season opener against UNLV.
At Arizona, between coaching changes and transfers, cornerbacks have revolved rather quickly over the past couple years. Rich Rodriguez enters his third season in the program this year and finally has his kind of guys back there.
Among those who will see significant playing time at the position include: redshirt senior Jonathan McKnight; redshirt freshman Jarvis McCall Jr.; and true freshman Cam Denson.
McKnight is the elder statesman of the group and has taken on a leadership role this offseason with his performance in fall camp.
“He’s stronger than he’s been in his whole career, and he’s healthier,” Rodriguez said. “He’s one of the leaders back there, and I’m looking for him to have a big year.”
After amassing 54 total tackles and two interceptions last season, McKnight should see the brunt of the assignments against opposing No. 1 receivers.
Joining him in the starting lineup will be McCall Jr. Starting the 6-foot-2 cornerback follows the trend around the football world of playing bigger cornerbacks.
His length and ability to meet taller wide receivers at the apex is key against spread offenses and the increasing number of deep throws made in the game today.
McCall Jr. said he’s been working on his craft this offseason and, in addition to making plays, wants to be more of a technician at his position.
“Over the offseason, I worked more on my technique, but I love to say I’m a play-maker,” McCall Jr. said. “Being a defensive player … my coach would say, ‘You want to get off the field, go out there and get me the ball back.’ So that’s how I see it every time.”
Along the same lines of taller cornerbacks, Denson will have a real chance to see the field this season.
So far, Denson has been moved on the roster from wide receiver to cornerback, and, with so many reliable receivers on the roster, he should see the majority of this playing time at corner this season.
The 5-foot-11, 167-pound Denson uses his length to play much bigger than his frame would indicate and has natural ball skills that come with playing both wide receiver and cornerback in high school.
“He’s got great ball skills,” Arizona cornerbacks coach David Lockwood said. “We were laughing yesterday during [practice] on the last play, on a deep ball, [Denson] turned and went up one handed and snatched it. He’s got great hands. … Once he masters his technique, that’ll allow him to do what he does best and go make plays.”
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