2002 SEASON PREVIEW

The Rams begin two-a-day workouts Thursday in shorts and helmets, then put on full pads for the first time Sunday. They travel to Virginia for the first game of the new college football season, Thursday, August 22nd in the Jim Thorpe Classic.

Sonny Lubick had a hard time keeping the smile off his face.

"It's exciting to be one of the first two college teams to be starting practice," Lubick said Wednesday at the team's annual media day gathering. We'll be done with two-a-days by the time a lot of teams are just getting started. Whether or not that's an advantage, I don't know…but I like it."

The Rams begin two-a-day workouts Thursday in shorts and helmets, then put on full pads for the first time Sunday. They travel to Virginia for the first game of the new college football season, Thursday, August 22nd in the Jim Thorpe Classic.

After a runner-up finish and a Bowl victory last season, many have picked the Rams to return to the top of the Mountain West Conference standings again this season.

"I think that we have a chance to be a good football team, but we lost a lot of good football players. Lubick said. I think we have a good senior class and have senior leadership will emerge."

The big difference from one year ago at this time is experience at quarterback, where junior Bradlee Van Pelt returns after starting nine games a year ago. It took the Rams some time to adapt their offense to Van Pelt's "sandlot" style last year, but they still pulled out six wins in those nine games. Backing up Van Pelt is talented sophomore Justin Holland, the better pure passer. He's slated to see some game action early in the season, regardless of the situation. Lubick is confident that everyone will be on the same page when the season starts.

"We should be better on offense. This year, we have more confidence in that area. The offensive line could be solid. (Offensive Line) Coach (Jon) Benton thinks we might have eight, nine or even 10 guys that can really play.

"Though we lost some quality receivers, we have a solid group coming back." The Rams head man was particularly excited about the prospects of wide receiver Chris Pittman, along with Eric Hill, Joey Cuppari and tight end Joel Dressen.

The biggest key on offense may be the return of a healthy Cecil Sapp, the running back who missed all of the 2001 season with a foot injury. Lubick said Sapp, the MVP of the 2000 Liberty Bowl, is in possibly the best shape of this career.

"At running back, having Cecil back really helps, and in many ways, we should be stronger in that area. We want to be a physical, hard-nosed team that can run the football."

That doesn't mean Sapp will be a workhorse during pre-season practices.

"If Cecil gets tackled five or six times between now and the start of that first game, that's plenty for me. We know what he can do, and we need to get some work for the guys behind him, too."

On defense, Lubick hopes the Rams recent trend of success continues.

"Defensively, we've never been the kind of dominating defense, but I think we'll be a solid defensive team that tries to make it hard to score. Our system helps us become as good as anyone defensively."

The Rams will need to get more physical up front to improve, and Lubick is confident that an experienced group that includes DE Peter Hogan, DT's Patrick Goodpaster and Bryan Save will be up to the task. The strength of the unit should be at linebacker, where they have a talented set of linebackers, led by first-team all-league pick Eric Pauly. The junior from Conway Springs, Kan., led the league in tackles last year on his way post-season and was a second-team Academic All-American.

"We have three starting linebackers who as a trio, work well together and should be solid," Lubick said.

The secondary is more of a concern, where the Rams must replace a wealth of experience. They'll count on converted linebacker David Vickers to move into one safety spot, with several players vying for playing time. A lack of experienced depth at cornerback means both Rhett Nelson and Dexter Wynn need to stay healthy.

But there's more than talent that figures into the Rams recent run. Lubick said the Rams' success during his tenure - 5 conference titles and 6 bowl games - has always included solid team chemistry.

"Our success at Colorado State has been due to team chemistry."

Team chemistry and special teams units that one national publication called the best in the country.

"We always stress how valuable special teams are. Our players love to play on special teams, and we hope that we can continue that trend," Lubick said.

Punter Joey Huber (who just underwent minor knew surgery but should be back before the Virginia game) has garnered several pre-season accolades, and Wynn figures to be a big play performer in the Rams return game again this season.

Practices are scheduled for 8:45 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. on the practice fields south of Moby Arena.


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