Evaluating the roster: Cornerback

Arizona will look for the performance of the cornerbacks to match their potential this upcoming season.

Spring practice is upon us, which means the start of the college football season is roughly five months away. The Arizona football team has hit the practice field in full force in preparation for the 2011 campaign and there is much to discuss.

2010 left a bitter taste in the mouth of UA fans and players alike and the hope is that the squad has put its misfortunes behind itself and has begun to focus its attention on what lies ahead. Spring football allows players to get back into the groove of playing football on a daily basis and it permits those vying for playing time the opportunity to prove what they are worth.

One position that has a ton of talent, but struggled at points throughout the course of the 2010 season is cornerback. Heading into last season, many figured that his are would be a strength for the Wildcats, but the position had one too many shortcomings and there was some juggling done at cornerback by the UA coaching staff.

Despite the team's struggles at corner, there is still plenty of optimism surrounding the position heading into 2011.

For starters, first-stringers Robert Golden and Trevin Wade return for their senior seasons. Golden played very well in his first year as a starter at cornerback. After spending his sophomore season at the safety position, Golden transitioned back to corner – the position he played in high school – and experienced a relatively successful campaign.

Golden finished the 2010 season with 60 tackles – 2.5 for loss – and an interception. The soon-to-be senior also broke up a team-high 12 passes and forced a fumble. His season wasn't free of mistakes and miscues, but Golden did enough to create the belief that he is ready for a big season as a senior.

After an extremely strong sophomore campaign, Trevin Wade took a step back as a junior as he struggled with injuries, not to mention his confidence. Wade only compiled a single interception in 12 games while collecting 47 tackles. Entering his final collegiate season, Wade must improve his performance in 2011 or he could be pushed for playing time once again.

Not many true freshmen come in and have an impact on the game the way Shaquille Richardson did, but his performance gave Wildcat fans a lot of hope when it came to the future of the cornerback position. Despite arriving to Arizona only a couple of weeks prior to the start of the season, Richardson made the biggest impact of any true freshman on the roster.

He finished with 29 tackles, two interceptions, seven passes broken up and a forced fumble. Most of those numbers were produced in a reserve role, but he was productive as a starter when called upon. In his first career start, Richardson was named Pac-10 defensive player of the week with his outstanding performance against Washington State.

Richardson wasn't the only true freshman to make an impact as Jonathan McKnight also saw the field in spots last season. McKnight didn't have the type of season Richardson did as a freshman, but he collected 12 tackles and broke up a pair of passes in limited playing time.

McKnight should be one of the primary backups this season and could see an increased role as he continues to progress. The coaching staff likes his potential and he will get a chance to show more of what he can do this season.

Jourdon Grandon redshirted as a true freshman in 2010 and could provide depth in 2011. Barring injury, Grandon will most likely see a role on special teams for now and could see the field as a corner in mop-up duty. He has a high ceiling, but there are a lot of people in front of him that will most likely get a chance to prove themselves before he hits the field.

Derrick Rainey returns trying to push his way into the rotation. Rainey is a very good athlete with a lot of tools to work with, but has yet to find a way on to the field. At 6-foot-1, 190-pounds, Rainey has size and length most corners do not possess and, because of his size and athleticism, it wouldn't be a big surprise to see him battle for time.

Lyle Brown returns for another season, but will probably have to find his role on special teams. Last season, the junior finished with one tackle and has a total of five for his career. Brown has been a solid offseason player, but he hasn't been able to get on the field outside of kickoff coverage.

The 2011 class also brings in two players at the cornerback position. Both Cortez Johnson and Tra'Mayne Bondurant are likely to redshirt given all of the depth currently on the roster. Each player has a high ceiling, but it's going to be hard as true freshmen to come in and make an impact right away.

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