The Stoops Era: Arizona's Top Defensive Players, Nos. 6-10
Mike Stoops didn't know what he was really getting himself into when he signed on as Arizona's coach in 2004.
He didn't know just how bare the cupboards were. He didn't know it was going to take him five years, FIVE, to turn around the Wildcats.
Well, Stoops has more than turned around the Arizona Wildcat football program. For the first this decade, they control their own fate.
They still have a chance to get to their first Rose Bowl in program history (knock on wood). They are poised to finish in the top four of the Pac-10 for the first time since 1998.
With almost six seasons with the team Stoops has been able to leave a mark on the team.
Let's take a look at the top ten defensive players of The Stoops Era.
10. Earl Mitchell
Big Earl came to Arizona as a fullback and played on the offensive side of the ball for two seasons where he trucked opponents into the ground to clear way for the running backs.
Once the spread attack came to Arizona, Stoops decided to turn Mitchell into a defensive tackle to better utilize his skills.
He skyrocketed up the depth chart during his first spring at defensive tackle, becoming the top defensive tackle and starting the first game of the 2008 season.
In the past two seasons Mitchell has trucked opponents into the ground, this time to stop those running backs in their tracks.
While Big Earl has not put up huge stats (57 tackles and five sacks), he helps draw double teams and take up space freeing his teammates to make plays.
Mitchell will most likely be a late round draft pick because of the speed and athleticism that he shows at the position.
9. Brooks Reed
It's amazing that I have two former fullbacks on this list.
When Brooks Reed was moved to defensive end during the middle of his freshman season, you could see Stoops and Co. made the right move.
Reed is fast off the edge and can blow by opposing tackles, creating pressure on the quarterback and getting them on their backs.
In his first full season as a starter, Reed had eight sacks to go along with 37 tackles.
Reed was supposed to take the next step this season as a pass rusher but nagging injuries have kept him from making an impact this season. He has seen little action outside of the first three games this season.
If Reed is able to come back healthy, he should be able to fly up this list and getting drafted by an NFL team.
8. Ronnie Palmer
Palmer was an under-the-radar player when he came to Arizona. He left a four-year starter who became a fan favorite among Arizona fans.
Palmer was able to amass over 237 tackles over his final three seasons, leading the Wildcats in that category his senior year.
Every Wildcat fan will remember Ronnie Palmer for his bone-crushing hits. This is where he became known for throwing caution to the wind and his body as opponents.
Every fan knew who was in on the tackle when they heard the familiar 'pop' sound come from the field.
He exemplified everything that Stoops looked for in a player; hard-working, no-nonsense and getting better to help the team win.
7. Devin Ross
Devin Ross came to Arizona to learn from Mike Stoops on how to be a shut-down defensive back.
He must have listened to his coach.
Ross earned second-team All-Pac 10 honors last season after getting three interceptions and 50 tackles.
Teams have learned their lesson this season, as Ross has barely seen any balls thrown his way, only picking off one pass so far this season.
Some fans will only remember him for his blown coverage against Oregon State last year which is a shame. Ross has shown to be a top-flight cornerback in the Pac-10.
Don't be surprised this April if the cornerback's name is announced in the top half of this year's draft.
6. Lionel Dotson
Dotson was a late-bloomer. A player who got better the longer he was in the program.
Dotson was under-the-radar player even for Arizona fans following the team. While the team was out recruiting bigger names, Dotson was working hard going unnoticed.
His senior season was his best, racking up 50 tackles and six and a half sacks. These were both career highs and almost doubled his total output in his first three seasons.
All of that hard work paid off when he was announced as a seventh-round draft choice of the Miami Dolphins in the 2008 NFL Draft.