Spring Practice Report: Thurs March 25

Spring drills continue under nearly perfect weather. It was a Chamber of Commerce kind of day as the Wildcats returned to the McKale practice field for the second day of spring practice. Under a bright blue sky the team continued to add the offense and defense, while also stressing fundamentals and special teams.

After last season's dreadful special teams play, a huge emphasis has been placed on the kicking game. The Cats spent a long time working on field goals and the kick off unit. Mike Stoops was very hands on during this time, dealing with all facets of the PAT/FG unit.

"I think it is big," coach Stoops said of special teams. "We will spend as much time as anybody on special teams. They play a big part in the game. There is such a premium on field position all the time." "It is really important," he continued. "We have to spend the time. We are going to work hard on field goal and punt protection and make sure those are two things that are good coming out of spring."

A new wrinkle on the team is how the kickers are treated in practice. In the past they were included in drills. John Mackovic wanted them to feel like "real football players" and had them going through drills with other position players. They acted as centers during passing drills and only worked by themselves when the team was in scrimmage situations.

Now they spend most of their time kicking. For long stretches of practice they head over to the stadium to work on field goals. While they are still at the practice facility they are all working on punting. Nick Folk has worked on his punting as well as his place kicking and walk-on Chad Werley can also do both duties.

"Our kickers came out and kicked well," Stoops confessed. "They have some strength. They have kicking abilities. It is about confidence, and getting them a lot of work under fire, and that is what we are going to do."

It is apparent from watching the quarterbacks and new offensive coordinator Mike Canales that they are being prepped for a myriad of situations. They are working at moving in the pocket, rolling out, avoiding a rush and throwing on the run. Every situation seems to be getting covered.

"The guys are so positive and they want to learn and they are very, very coachable," Canales said. "We have thrown a lot at them in two days, as much as anywhere I have ever been in the first two days. If we throw a lot at them and they haven't panicked, and they haven't panicked. You are going to make mistakes."

The new coach has been very pleased with the progress of the young passers. He mentioned that in one stretch of almost 180 plays that only two balls hit the ground.

"That is unheard of," Canales said. "The concentration is there and the focus is there."

Canales indicated that he'd like to have a top-two in the near future and then decide on one starter by the end of camp.

*Seven new walk-ons have joined the team. They are: OL Matt Garcia, WR Ryan Koller, RB Matt Petit (Orange Coast College), RB Ryan Shirley, DB Rishard Davis, DB Andrew Ford, K Chad Werley.

*The Cats will be in pads on Friday, their first practice in pads.

*The Saturday practice is still slated to be open to the public, but that is subject to change at the coaching staff's discretion.

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