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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Special teams gets makeover

    Arizona wideout Mike Thomas trys to avoid the tackle during last
    Arizona wideout Mike Thomas trys to avoid the tackle during last

    It might be hard to recognize the Arizona special teams unit this season.

    With the losses of kicker and punter Nick Folk to the Dallas Cowboys and kick returner Syndric Steptoe to the Cleveland Browns, Arizona has been forced to fill all three key positions with new players.

    Filling the oversized shoes of Folk will be freshmen Keenyn Crier and Alex Zendejas and junior Jason Bondzio. A variety of versatile players will take up Steptoe’s old role this season, but getting the majority of the reps will be sophomore Devin Ross and junior Mike Thomas.

    Crier, who will be taking over the punting duties this season, averaged 52 yards on five punts during the team’s fall scrimmage Aug. 18, booting one for 75 yards.

    Crier said he has spent much of the offseason working on boosting his yards-per-punt average.

    “”I’ve been working on my technique a lot in practice,”” Crier said, “”and I’m starting to get a lot more consistent.””

    “”Consistency”” was a word special teams coach Joe Robinson used frequently when describing this year’s unit.

    “”We’ve seen a really good leg from him,”” Robinson said of Crier. “”But then we’ve also seen inconsistencies. We’d like to see more consistency so that the team can depend on it, because if we don’t get the good punt and the good hang time, bad things can happen.””

    Robinson mentioned consistency again when talking about his two placekickers, Bondzio and Zendejas.

    While the position is yet to be officially assigned, Robinson said he is leaning toward Bondzio as the starter.

    “”We don’t want to make a decision yet,”” Robinson said. “”We want them to continue to compete, because I think it has been really good for both of them.””

    Bondzio went 3-for-4 on field-goal attempts during the scrimmage, with his longest conversion coming from 46 yards. His only miss hit the right post from 53 yards out.

    “”I felt really good about (my performance),”” Bondzio said after the scrimmage. “”My leg felt really strong. The only one I missed hit the post, so I still feel I have the leg to make those long kicks.””

    Ross looked particularly impressive during the scrimmage with two long kickoff returns, including a 65-yarder going from sideline to sideline.

    “”I think we did all right,”” Ross said of the return team’s performance in the scrimmage. “”Of course, there’s still a lot of work to do. We just have to take things step by step, find our mistakes and correct them.””

    With the first game of the 2007 season Saturday at Brigham Young, Robinson said playing well from the get-go will be crucial.

    “”We need to win the battle of the special teams,””

    Robinson said. “”If we have an opportunity to gain field position on a return, we need to do it, and when our specialists have a chance to perform, they need to do it.

    “”We need to play well in game one, and that’s what we’ve been working for.””

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