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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Camp sparks attitude shift

    2006 Arizona Football Fall Camp

    Just four days into the two-week odyssey that is fall practice, Mike Stoops sees something different in the 2006 version of the Arizona Wildcats

    “”These guys are willing to pay the price to win,”” the third-year head coach said. “”Your work ethic has to match your expectation level, and so far, they’ve shown me that they expect and want to win.

    “”I think this team can compete every time they step on the field, and that’s ultimately our goal – giving ourselves a chance to win every single game.””

    To do that, Stoops needs a solid two weeks during the all-important fall camp from his troops, something that could be eased by the fact that the coach is now running the third fall camp of his head-coaching career.

    “”I think that starting your third year, your system is pretty much in place, and I think our kids understand a lot better,”” Stoops said. “”I think they play with a better focus and intensity on the field, and that’s what you have to have. It can’t always come from coaches, (the players) have to take that responsibility too.

    “”I think our team has done that the first couple of days. They seem a lot more confident about what they’re doing, and their attitude has been wonderful.””

    It becomes all the more impressive considering that there is seemingly no end in sight, with two-a-days beginning this Thursday. (All practices, which are held at the Rincon Vista Complex just south of East Broadway Boulevard and South Plummer Avenue, are open to the public, with camp concluding

    Aug. 19 with a “”Meet the Team”” scrimmage at Arizona Stadium.)

    “”Camp is real grueling as far as every day coming out: practice, practice, practice,”” junior linebacker Spencer Larsen said. “”If we can all get to the point where we like it, and we can be diligent – because it’s a long camp, and the season’s long too, just getting used to that grind, staying healthy through it – I think it prepares you well for the season.””

    Even as the offense just skims the surface in terms of implementing the system for the upcoming season – “”Just some basic stuff right now,”” sophomore quarterback Willie Tuitama said. “”Starting next week, we’ll probably open it up a lot more”” – preparation for the season-opening contest against BYU Sept. 2 is well underway.

    Perhaps the most important aspect of that preparation during these early stages of August isn’t on the field at all.

    “”You need to get everything mentally correct,”” redshirt sophomore linebacker Ronnie Palmer said. “”Every aspect.””

    Larsen said, “”Just polish things up. Get ready to play mentally every day.””

    That’s not to say it’s all mental – there are a number of position battles heating up camp, most notably the punting duel between redshirt junior Kyle McQuown, a transfer from Boise State, and freshman walk-on Keenyn Crier.

    “”It’s a good competition,”” said McQuown, who’s been taking reps with the first team. “”(Crier) is a great punter, so it’s going to give me some good competition.””

    “”Competition makes both people (better),”” said Crier, who walked on despite scholarship offers from smaller schools to pursue what he called one of his “”goals in life.””

    Another hot battle is at the running back spot, though the job is redshirt junior Chris Henry’s to lose.

    Even though redshirt freshman Xavier Smith has been impressive early on, and junior walk-on Chris Jennings is raising some eyebrows with play that seemingly gets better by the day, thus far in camp, Henry has shown no indication of budging an inch with a number of solid runs during the 11-on-11 team drills.

    The battle to replace safety Darrell Brooks, the unquestioned leader of the defense as a senior last year who was recently released by the Dallas Cowboys before the start of their training camp, is also heating up with junior college transfer Nate Ness, a junior, challenging fellow junior Dominic Patrick and sophomore Brandon Tatum at the free safety spot.

    And finally, not so much a battle as the other positions, is the question of who will handle the punt-returning duties.

    Thus far in camp, sophomore wide receiver Mike Thomas has split time on the first unit with junior reciever B.J. Dennard. Senior wideout Syndric Steptoe, last season’s returner who took back a punt for a score in the upset of UCLA, and freshman cornerback Devin Ross have also seen action.

    With less than a month to sort everything out before BYU comes to town, consistency in progression has become the key to the fall camp for Stoops.

    “”If we continue to improve like we did the first two days,”” he said, “”we’re going to have an opportunity to win a bunch of games.””

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