Hard work a must for this crop of Cats

Every coach is optimistic entering a new season, but one can tell that Arizona headman John Mackovic sees the potential for something special in this Wildcat team. Despite a rough past few weeks, Mackovic has seen his team make great strides in the off season.

To a man the players have commented on the work they did over the summer. The team was diligent in the weight room and on the practice field. Led by quarterback Jason Johnson, the Cats worked on their passing game bolstered by a greater understanding of the offense.

"We had the best turn out all summer," wider receiver Bobby Wade said. "We averaged between 55-60 guys, which from the years that I've been here is a complete turnaround. We did a good job throwing in the summer. Got a chance to work against Pima and guys who came out here from other schools. We got good quality work in. A lot of one-on-one time, getting better with DB's and wide receivers. Running the routes that are in our playbook instead of last year just going out there and running our old offense."

Mackovic noticed the improved attitude of the team and was very pleased.

"I'm very excited as far as what I see and what I know about what's been going on and how we've come together and done things," Mackovic said. "You can tell walking in the door that things are different in the way people are going about taking care of their issues and taking care of business and getting things done with a nice spirit."

The team will use a large rotation of players this season. More players will play, which Mackovic believes will not only help boost morale, but keep players intense and interested. The starting 11 are not the guys who will get all the snaps. Mackovic envisions a deeper rotation seeing playing time.

"We may find ourselves playing some people in smaller doses and playing with more people rotating in a couple of areas," Mackovic said. "It's beneficial to the team to use more rotations so you have fresh players in there all the time. Our units generally will include 17 to 19 players who will be able to rotate. We really have a larger number than just the starting 11 that are an integral part of what we're doing."

Mackovic has always maintained that jobs are earned and not inherited. Since he got to Tucson he has stressed that every player has to improve. This is a philosophy he has not backed down from one bit.

"If you're a starter, and you don't improve, you are going to move down," Mackovic said. "We don't want anyone standing pat, and that's what we have to do in training camp."

"I believe competition will be as good as we could expect at this point," he continued. "We have veterans coming back at a lot of positions, but we have some terrific young players. In addition to the rookies who just arrived, we have some young men who didn't play last year because they redshirted, and they also are in a position where they are going to challenge for playing time."

Although he is generally seen as an offensive coach, Mackovic has stressed defense as the main priority for this year's club. After the dismal showing last season, Mackovic and his staff have done a myriad of things to tweak the famed Double-Eagle Flex.

"There is no question that if we are going to be a championship-caliber football team, we have to play better defense," Mackovic said. "Our focus will be primarily on that issue during training camp and as we get going into the season. This does not mean that we will do anything to adversely affect our offense, but we will give our defense every opportunity and the focus to see that we get the kind of play that is required."

The Wildcats start practice today. After three sub-par seasons, the players seem rededicated to making a splash in the Pac-10. That's just the way Mackovic wants it.

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