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Moredich: Arizona Wildcats get creative in finding defensive tackles

‘They have to be big, fast and have an attitude,’ Wildcats head coach says

Arizona's Earl Mitchell moved from fullback to defensive tackle this season.

Arizona's Earl Mitchell moved from fullback to defensive tackle this season.

The search for the elusive quality defensive tackle is about as difficult as a good stock tip for Arizona.

As well as almost every other college football team.

A lot goes into trying to find the right player for the position.

“They have to be big, fast and have an attitude,” Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. “On the defensive line you have to be very athletic to be good at it.”

Add one more trait.

“You have to have a ‘want to’ attitude every time you play,” UA defensive tackle Earl Mitchell said. “You have to go out there and do it on every snap. I was willing to do it because it was a position that fit me. I was excited about it.”

Mitchell was a halfback/tight end this time a year ago.

There is no doubting Mitchell’s physical play. He moves around well and has 20 tackles, 2 1/2 for losses, and one sack this season.

Mitchell, a junior, is still in the adjustment period.

“I realized it was a lot of hard work,” Mitchell said of the switch. “It is a lot harder than I thought it was. I have a lot of respect for people who played it in high school and get recruited for it.”

Stoops is impressed with Mitchell’s play.

“(Mitchell) does everything right,” Stoops said. “He has overcome huge obstacles in his life and has become a very good player. He will continue to get better. His best football is in front of him. I love coaching the guy.”

Arizona needs more players like Mitchell, only bigger. His 6-foot-2, 265-pound frame is considered on the small side.

Arizona’s Kaniela Tuipulotu is 6 feet 2 inches, 280. Reserves Donald Horton (6 feet, 275) and Dominique Austin (6 feet 4 inches, 265) don’t add that much bulk either.

Keep in mind the defensive players are going up against offensive linemen who usually weight at least 300.

The lack of size up front has been a problem for Arizona at times. It tends to make stopping the run more difficult.

Arizona has given up big rushing yards to New Mexico (221) and Stanford (286) in the Wildcats’ two losses this season.

“Being able to make plays is very difficult when you are going against a guy who is bigger than you, stronger than you. You need that speed,” Stoops said. “You need to be faster than (the offensive linemen) and use leverage. There is a lot of technique involved.”

The Wildcats haven’t attracted high-profile tackles in recent years. The most successful player at that position in school history was 1993 Outland Trophy Award winner Rob Waldrop.

He wasn’t highly recruited out of the Phoenix area.

When top prospects come along, they go quickly. Sixteen of the top 25 high school defensive tackles nationally are already committed, according to Rivals.

The top pick is Jamarkus McFarland, a 6-3, 280-pound tackle from Lufkin, Texas. He has yet to decide.

Schools already receiving pledges from the top tackles include LSU, Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, Georgia, Texas, Florida State, Notre Dame and Miami.

The rich keep getting richer.

Arizona would love to persuade Corey Adams from Scottsdale Saguaro to come south, but USC appears to have the edge on Rivals’ No. 9-rated tackle.

The Wildcats are being creative and scouting more for players who may develop into the position, such as Mitchell.

“It is very hard for us to get some of the top-tier guys,” defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said. “They are at a premium and there are not that many of them, and not that many in the West. We have some guys, and we love the way Earl is playing, but we need some bigger bodies.”

Sione Tuihalamaka and Eddie Nuckols are two of the other tackles on the Wildcats’ radar. Nuckols is a 6-3, 300-pound tackle from Mission Hills High in San Marcos, Calif.

Tuihalamaka is a mobile 6-2, 275-pound talent from Serra High in Gardena, Calif.

One way the Wildcats adjust to size issues is relying on gang tackling and quickness.

“I love our guys but we have some guys in there that are undersized,” Mark Stoops said. “It is not just on them (to stop plays). We take pride in getting guys in the proper spots to outnumber them so they don’t have to lay on our defensive linemen all day.”

John Moredich’s e-mail: jmoredich@tucsoncitizen.com (jmoredich@tucsoncitizen.com)



The top six Pac-10 teams for defending against the rush, with yards per game and touchdowns given up on the ground:

USC 82.8 4

California 95.0 7

Oregon 102.7 7

Stanford 114.3 12

Oregon State 130.2 9

Arizona 137.2 5



Cal (4-1, 2-0) at Arizona (4-2, 2-1), 7 p.m. Saturday. TV: FSNA. Radio: 1290 AM, 107.5 FM

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