Kish happy with defense so far

There will be plenty of change on Arizona's defense this season and, so far, defensive coordinator Tim Kish is happy with its progress.

With spring football ending on Saturday, defensive coordinator Tim Kish is pleased with how his defense has come along during the spring.

"We've made good progress," Kish said. "Our emphasis has been on being physical and finishing, and I think we're a more physical team than we were in the fall. And we're doing a better job of finishing out there on the field."

The defense has performed well in the two live scrimmages thus far during spring ball, and coach Kish is hoping that trend continues on Saturday.

"We've been pretty solid all spring," Kish said. "I just want to see us improve and keep our focus and keep that energy and enthusiasm we've had all spring. Hopefully that'll be a good way to finish on Saturday."

The Arizona defense, like many programs around the country, is not immune to problems and shortcomings at this point in its preparations for the 2011 season. First, Kish acknowledged the challenge of replacing Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore along the defensive line, but stated his confidence in this year's defensive ends.

"Anytime you have to replace anyone with any experience, it's always tough," Kish said. "But I like the guys we have in there with Mohammed (Usman) and C.J. (Parish). Even though they haven't taken an official rep at their positions, they're showing us they're capable at their position."

Despite the lack of experience at a position that was arguably the strong point of the Arizona defense a season ago, coach Kish does not believe the graduation of Reed and Elmore will affect the schemes which the unit operates in.

"It's not going to change anything," Kish said. "We're always trying to find new ways to improve and do little things different that will help us, but nothing major."

Another issue of importance for the UA defense heading into the conclusion of spring ball is the lack of depth at the linebacker position after R.J. Young and Trevor Erno decided to leave the program.

"It's definitely a concern," Kish said. "I'm disappointed those guys chose to do what they did, but that's behind us and we're moving on. We've got three freshman coming in, and Bilal (Muhammed) and Kyle Benson have done a nice job of filling in this spring as back ups."

More help is on the way for Kish and the linebackers in early June, as Hank Hobson, Rob Hankins, and Domonique Petties are poised to join the Wildcats in the summer. With Young and Erno out, Kish is prepared to throw any of the true freshmen straight into the fire of Pac-12 play.

"It just means the younger guys are going to have to get ready a little bit quicker than we anticipated," Kish said. "I'll throw any of them in that's ready to play, if we can get them ready to play.

"They're all going to be here early in the summer, I think that'll be a great advantage to all three and hopefully one or two of those guys will be able to help this year."

The addition of Joe Salave'a as the defensive line coach and Ryan Walters as defensive backs coach could have been a difficult transition for the staff and the players, but Kish is very pleased with how his new coaches have performed thus far and what they have brought to the defense as a whole.

"They're doing awesome," Kish said. "I couldn't ask for a better group of coaches to be around. They have great energy and great enthusiasm, and it's helped to motivate our side of the ball."

Perhaps the most looming question in the mind of Arizona fans is just how good the defense can be this season. That question is something coach Kish has presented to his defense, and he's optimistic it can perform well and rise to the task of readying itself for the 2011 season.

"We challenged them at the beginning of the spring with how good they can be," Kish said. "Every group is a new group, and I think we have great potential with this group. It'll be up to them over the summer with getting themselves prepared. Hopefully we'll meet our expectations in the fall."

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