2003 Football Outlook, Pt. 4

In the final installment of the University's official 2003 Outlook we take a look at special teams and the changes in the coaching staff. Special teams may not be glamorous, but any Wildcat fan knows the importance of a strong unit.

Special Teams - Coordinator Jay Boulware

UA opens fall camp with senior place kicker Bobby Gill, redshirt freshman Nicholas Folk or junior two-year letterman Ryan Slack kicking off, and what Mackovic calls "the bullpen method" at punter - sophomore Danny Baugher or senior James Molina. Linebacker Joe Siofele handles long snaps, with center Keoki Fraser or he performing the placement snaps duty. As noted earlier, incoming junior college transfer Tom Robinson is said to be a quality snapper and could be an immediate factor.

Arizona games in 2002 involved more than 300 total special teams plays. UA was among the nation's best in punt returns and blocked half a dozen kicks, but also gave up seven blocked kicks and was near the bottom of the league in punting, kickoff returns and field goals. Improvement is needed.

Gill has the leg and the practice consistency, and needs to make it a sure thing in 2003. Folk had opportunities in spring ball and has a scholarship kicker's ability. Baugher and Molina had some good days, some bad days, and often traded off in that respect in 2002. They'll open 2003 with the job up for grabs and hopefully one guy will shine enough to make it a sure thing.

Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwtiz has a strong background working with punters - some nation-best years while at Texas A&M and elsewhere - and will work with the punters for the Cats. Mackovic himself likes to get involved with the place kickers. Boulware laid out his plans for special teams last spring and will draw on all position coaches for help with various units.

Receiver Andrae Thurman (punts) and defensive backs Gary Love and Jason Martin (kickoffs) will open the year as returners, though any incoming speedster can make a mark there, freshman or not.

Coaching

Mackovic says that some flexibility on the part of the coaching staff will be key to several points of focus in 2003. For example, he said the staff would be willing to change plans in following the progress of the quarterbacks and the new defense. In other words, the staff will have to match its weekly or in-game strategies with how those two new team areas develop.

"We had a terrific spring. There was a lot of energy on the field. I think the players crave 'performance' as much as anything. They're willing to deal with how the staff got after them, and understood that discipline can lead to improved performance," Mackovic said.

Mackovic did a great job of putting together an experienced staff after some key departures following the 2002 season. "We helped ourselves," he noted after filling the five openings.

Schedule

It's known that football schedules are built over time, normally well ahead of any one season. Typically, a coach might not build a season with 10 opponents who played in bowl games the previous winter. Arizona gets that in 2003.

It won't be easy. The Cats open at home with long-time regional rival Texas-El Paso, then entertain LSU and open an early-league schedule with Oregon in successive weeks. The second and third contests will be shown nationally by TBS Sports, so Arizona's progress will be known quickly. Then it's off to Purdue and another non-conference home date with Texas Christian before the Pac-10 schedule begins in earnest the first week in October.

The five August-September games can define UA's 2003 season. Mackovic has turned in a solid 6-2 mark in those months his first two years. This time around that kind of progress would be a huge plus and get the Cats out of the gate in great shape.

Three-Year Lettermen:
Clarence Farmer, HB
Clay Hardt, FS
Michael Jolivette, CB
Gary Love, CB
Lance Relford, WR
Reggie Sampay, OG
Joe Siofele, LB
Andrae Thurman, WR

Two-Year Lettermen:
Keoki Fraser, C
Steve Fleming, TE
Patrick Howard, LB
Kirk Johnson, LB
Matt Molina, OLB
Brandon Phillips, OT
Ryan Slack, K
Carlos Williams, DT

Fifth-Year Seniors:
Bobby Gill, PK
Clay Hardt, FS
Michael Jolivette, CB
Gary Love, CB
Matt Molina, OLB
Brandon Phillips, OT
Lance Relford, WR
Joe Siofele, LB
Andrae Thurman, WR

Due to the length of the original press release, we broke it up into four installments. To read it in its entirety go to the official Athletic Department site at arizonaathletics.ocsn.com.

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