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Defense dominates in Arizona football scrimmage

Mike Stoops gives direction at practice last week.
Photo by Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic

In the first of two public spring scrimmages for the Arizona Wildcats, the defense had its day.

The defense stopped the offense without any points for 14 consecutive possessions before allowing a 12-yard touchdown pass from senior backup quarterback Bryson Beirne to redshirt freshman receiver Tyler Slavin on the final drive.

The defense had five interceptions, including in four consecutive possessions.

That’s not exactly what you would have expected, considering the strength of the team is expected to be the passing game. But it’s spring. The coaches are getting long looks at a lot of young players and are trying out new things.

No need to get too excited or too worried either way.

But Mike Stoops says he is bullish about his defense, even with starting safety Adam Hall suffering a serious knee injury in practice last week.

“Defensively, I like the energy we played with today,” Stoops said.

“Defensively, we have a chance to better (than last season) at nine positions. … When it’s all said and done, I think we’ll be stronger than we’ve ever been.”

Better at nine positions? Stoops is excluding both defensive end spots, where the Wildcats lose Brooks Reed, Ricky Elmore and D’Aundre Reed.

Arizona returns a deep group of defensive tackles (minus graduated Lolomana Mikaele) and adds redshirt freshmen Kirifi Taula and Aiulua Fanene, among others, to the mix. Defensive tackle Dominique Austin, at 292 pounds, worked as a second-team defensive end Saturday.

Arizona is thin at linebacker, with backups R.J. Young and Trevor Erno leaving the team in the offseason, but all three starters are back — 2010 leading tackler Paul Vassallo, Derek Earls (two interceptions on Saturday) and Jake Fischer. No problems here if this trio stays healthy.

All the cornerbacks return, with Arizona moving Robert Golden to safety to help cover for the loss of Joseph Perkins and Anthony Wilcox, neither of whom had stellar senior seasons.

So, yeah, it’s actually not unreasonable to think — barring further injuries and with expected improvement from returning starters — that the Cats could be better at nine spots.

How it all comes together is another matter. Playing with the energy they showed Saturday is a good start.

“That’s the thing we want to do this year,” Golden said. “We want to play with a chip on our shoulders.”

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