In many ways, the defensive end position was what made the Arizona defense as good as it has been over the past few years. Led by now-NFL linemen Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, UA's front four was able to cause numerous problems for opposing offensive lines over the past three seasons.
When healthy, the duo formed the most dangerous pass-rushing tandem at the defensive end position in the Pac-10 conference. It made life easier for the secondary and took pressure off the linebackers in passing situations.
Now with both Elmore and Reed gone to the next level, the Wildcats will rely on two relatively inexperienced players to fill the shoes of two of the better defensive ends Arizona has fielded in quite some time.
One such player looking to make a big impact this year is Mohammed Usman. After playing only sporadically towards the end of the season due to a suspension that kept him sidelined for most of his junior campaign, Usman feels fortunate to have one last season to make an impact at the college level.
"I feel blessed," Usman said. "I feel very blessed. It's a gift. I feel really blessed to be able to do this."
Despite the questions surrounding the position, Usman knows that he must continue to grind. What the senior is going up against this year will be a tough challenge, but he plans on taking it head-on.
"We are going to do real good," Usman said. "I feel like you can never get complacent. You have to keep working hard every day and getting better every day by learning from our mistakes. Just like I have learned, don't do the same thing twice."
UA fans may have become a bit spoiled over the past three seasons with Elmore and Reed coming off the ends. It may be some time before Wildcats' fans see that type of production again, but you can bet on Usman putting in the necessary work to develop into one of the better players at the position in the Pac-12.
"I don't think anybody is ever going to fill those guy's shoes," Usman said. "We are just trying to make our mark at the University of Arizona before it's our time to go because they played four or five years here. Me and C.J. Parish have been through our own little struggles, but we have our own year to do what we have to do; to show everybody that we're very capable of being two of the top defensive ends in college football."
After an abbreviated junior campaign, Usman knows this is his last chance to make something happen at the college level. The senior is using it as motivation and plans on taking advantage of this one last opportunity.
"It pushes me to the max," Usman said. "It pushes me to make my teammates better; to make the offensive line better – they're young. You just have to keep pushing them and get them as ready as possible."
Usman may face a decent amount of pressure from the average observer because of who played at the position before him. With that being apparent, does Usman feel he can carry on the productive play from the defensive end position that has been present for the Wildcats in recent years?
"Yes, definitely," Usman said. "We're going to do the best we can to continue the tradition that some of these other guys started for us."
Usman up to the task
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