Arizona Wildcats coach Mike Stoops walked up to a waiting group of reporters after Thursday’s practice and opened with this: “More bad news,” he said.
It sure was.
Sophomore Jonathan McKnight, a starting cornerback and projected to be the team’s primary punt returner, suffered a torn ACL in Wednesday’s practice and is out for the season.
“It’s disappointing for Jonathan,” Stoops said.
“He’s a terrific player and he had a great camp. It is just one of those things. We feel very disappointed and sad for him and our team. He’s a great leader for us and an outstanding football player.”
McKnight, who was a backup last season, often looked to be the team’s best cornerback in camp, although senior Trevin Wade made a statement with two interceptions in the final scrimmage.
Sophomore Shaquille Richardson, who had been competing for a starting spot at cornerback and could have been the starting nickel back, will take over McKnight’s spot.
“Shaq definitely has to step up, and he’s capable of doing so,” said secondary coach Ryan Walters. “He’s a tremendous talent. A smart player. He just has to focus on the details and be competitive every play.”
Redshirt freshman Jourdon Grandon, who returned this week from a sprained knee, will be the starting nickel back for the opener against NAU on Sept. 3. True freshman Cortez Johnson moves up to become the team’s third cornerback.
Five Arizona players have suffered torn ACLs since spring, including three defensive starters, which is potentially devastating. Safety Adam Hall and linebacker Jake Fischer, who each sustained their injury in the spring, are pointed toward a possible early October return, Stoops said Thursday.
Backup defensive tackle Willie Mobley tore his ACL playing pickup basketball in May, and backup running back Greg Nwoko suffered a torn ACL in spring practice.
“It’s very frustrating, but it’s part of the game,” Stoops said of the run of bad luck with ACL injuries, which hasn’t been a program-wide problem until this season.
“Guys are so much bigger and faster right now. … There’s a fine line as coaches as to how much you practice and how much you don’t. We haven’t altered our schedule in any way, or our training. I don’t have a good explanation for it right now.”
McKnight was injured Wednesday as he landed after going up for a ball.
“To get a guy hurt in non-contact is kind of freakish, but we’ve had two or three like that,” Stoops said. “It’s just very unfortunate.”
Who returns punts?
Arizona can always turn to receiver David Douglas, a senior who will catch everything but isn’t much of a threat to break off a long run. Earlier in camp, Richardson and receiver Richard Morrison also were competing at punt returner.