Coach's Corner: Let the season begin

Training camp is over and the Cats are less than a week away from their season opener. In many respects the Cats mirror the UTEP Miners, young teams with young quarterbacks, but they hope to play on a higher level. John Mackovic had his first press conference of the season and addressed the Miners and his own team.

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Mackovic started the press conference by discussing the UTEP Miners:.

John Mackovic: "I would expect that they are going to pressure us a lot and see if they can blitz the quarterbacks. They will put a lot of pressure on them and see if they can force some big plays. They are a good pressure team. Last year, they played a lot of man-to-man coverage. We have to prepare for that, and we have to be able to adjust if they go into more zone coverage.

"Their offense is very similar to ours. They have multiple formations and a lot of different things. They were a really good play-action team last year. I don't know what their intention is this year with moving the quarterback or having him stay in the pocket. They did a little bit of both last year with different quarterbacks in and out of the lineup. If we get something brand new that we've never seen, we will just have to make quick adjustments to that."

Next Mackovic discussed the quarterback situation:

Mackovic: "With two young quarterbacks, we are just as cautious with our game preparation as far as protections and how much we give them to do and how much we put in their hands for making everything happen. We are not going to give them a vanilla offense, but we will be careful that we don't overload them to the point where they can't get the plays called or operate like they would like.

"I am meeting with all of the quarterbacks individually this week. I don't intend to make any real announcement until Saturday when we play. Both quarterbacks will play, and both will play in the first half. We will have to see what happens after that. Whoever starts is not the most significant thing to me or to our team. The players want to know who is going to lead us down the field. It's not where you start; it is where you finish."

"We are hopeful that both Kris (Heavner) and Richard (Kovalcheck) will not have to play this year. For them to grow, develop and mature would be best for them. That being the case, Adam Austin, who has been in the program, would be our third quarterback. He knows our offense, knows the system, and he could go in and finish a game or do something for us. If either Nic or Ryan were to get injured, then we would take one of those two freshmen and elevate him immediately and move him into the second or third spot."

Mackovic on the offensive line:

Mackovic: "They have hung in there. The one I have been pleased with the most is Reggie Sampay, and I know (offensive line coach) Mike Deal would agree. Reggie was battling for a couple of different spots, and he will open at left guard. He had a real good scrimmage and a good Thursday night last week. He is a real warrior-type player. He played last year with more bumps and bruises and more aches and pains than anybody on the football team, and he never wanted to come out. He is healthy, and he feels good now. We put him beside Chris Johnson, Keoki (Fraser) in the middle and Kili (Lefotu) and Brandon (Phillips). All of them have played a lot, and all of them know what we're doing. And, they really have a good feel for each other. They definitely will play most of the game."

Question: Which of the true freshmen listed on the depth chart will play right away?

Mackovic: "We told Chris (Henry) coming in that he would get to play right away. He is going to play right now. He is our third tailback, and we do not feel that we should wait four or five weeks to find out if he is going to play. Chris Henry has to go in and play right now. We are going to need three tailbacks during the year."

Question: Are you happy with the development of redshirt freshman wide receiver Michael Jefferson?

Mackovic: "I just continue to think that he is going to be a terrific big-play receiver. He is going to continue to grow and develop. The redshirt year was great for him because he knew he wasn't ready even though he came ready. I think he will be a dependable returner, and he is getting a lot of competition there right now."

Mackovic on sophomore cornerback/wide receiver Jason Martin:

Mackovic: "We have moved Jason Martin to offense for a while, and we are going to train him as a receiver. I liked him a lot as a potential receiver when we recruited him, and of course he played with Ryan O'Hara in high school. If he is needed, he can go back to defense, but we really are a little bit shy in numbers at receiver. We need someone who can scoot, and he has shown terrific quickness. But, we are not interested in him as a two-way player."

Question: Was the move facilitated by the play of junior cornerback Luis Nunez?

Mackovic: "We can trust Luis to do anything. If you were going to say, 'Who are your starting corners,' I would list three. I think Luis is that good, and I think Luis can plug right in there and play as well as anybody."

Question: Have you selected a punter yet?

Mackovic:"Those guys are really either or. James is a senior, and I am going to make sure that James gets to do some punting. Both of those guys are going to get to punt."

Question: You've gotten off to fast starts the past two years, but won't it be tougher to do that with this year's schedule?

Mackovic: "It will be harder to get the same kind of September that we have had the last two years because the schedule is much tougher. The biggest thing for us is to be improved this week over where we were, and the second week, we have to be improved, and so on. We will have some shortcomings, and we will have some things happen, and we will have to identify those things. The key as we go through this non-conference schedule with Oregon in the middle is that we have to be able to look at ourselves and see how much we have improved. We have good and tough opponents early, and it will not be as easy as it has been for the last two years."

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