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Arizona football: It's all hands on deck

Special teams getting major upgrade as Cats address old weakness
2012-08-18T00:00:00Z 2014-10-10T11:27:23Z Arizona football: It's all hands on deckRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 18, 2012 12:00 am  • 

It was a disaster-preparedness drill, football-style, and Kyle Dugandzic was putting out fires.

For about 10 minutes at a practice earlier this month, the Arizona Wildcats' senior punter scooped football after football off the ground, often cleanly. Most of the bad snaps bounced or skipped just once before Dugandzic snatched them, swung his leg, and kicked.

The man wildly firing the footballs? Rich Rodriguez.

"He's the only head coach I've ever had who's thrown bad snaps at me," Dugandzic said with a smile.

Of all the new, different and occasionally eccentric things that Rodriguez has brought to the UA in his first year as head coach, perhaps none is more extreme than the way he'll handle special teams.

Seven coaches, including Rodriguez, have divvied up special teams duties for the 2012 season. The extra sets of eyes will help the UA avoid what's been a bugaboo in recent years.

The UA's margin for error will be razor-thin this fall, putting an ever greater emphasis on the little things - and special teams are the biggest "little thing" in the sport.

Said Rodriguez: "There's no question that for us right now, we've got to be able to make plays in special teams and be really solid there to have a chance."

Here's a look at the Wildcats' new way:

How it works: UA coaches split up special teams responsibilities into offensive and defensive units, and assigned assistant coaches to each group accordingly.

Wide receivers coach Tony Dews is handling punts, while tight ends coach Spencer Leftwich will oversee field goals. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich will supervise the field goal block unit, and safeties coach Tony Gibson will manage both kickoff and punt returns. Calvin Magee, the UA's running backs coach and co-offensive coordinator, is in charge of kickoff returns.

"And I," Rodriguez said, "get a little hand in all of it."

What it means: For starters, there's an increased emphasis on special teams this year. Rodriguez and his assistants have been working on at least one element each day in practice; they'll focus more on returns as the season gets closer.

The different coaches mean that each unit is accountable to a different person, which - depending on how each player is wired - is either a godsend or a nightmare.

Rodriguez said it "shows the sense of importance. When you've got the coordinators involved in it, guys see it's a whole team effort."

The Wildcats' two most prominent specialists seem to like it.

"I think it's helped me become a better player and a punter, because I have to worry about pleasing one person," Dugandzic said. "I'm working harder than I ever have my entire life, and that's something I'm proud of."

Said place-kicker John Bonano: "Everything's according to the details, and that's good."

Why it's important: The Wildcats have been dreadful on special teams over the last few seasons.

Missed kicks cost the Wildcats a rivalry game against Arizona State in 2010, and played a major factor in a loss at Oregon State last October. The game in Corvallis turned out to be Mike Stoops' last; his temporary replacement, Tim Kish, began his tenure by changing special teams coaches.

It didn't take long for Rodriguez to realize that the Wildcats aren't talented enough on offense and defense to take the kicking and kick return games lightly.

Because of it, maybe the Wildcats' special teams will be less of a problem this year.

"He's put a lot of emphasis on special teams, which I like," Dugandzic said. "Its important to me. it's a huge part of my life. I'm glad that a head coach takes it as seriously as I do."

 

Training camp: Day 14

At Kindall/Sancet Stadium

• Temperature at start: 82 degrees and muggy at 2 p.m.

• Walk-on watch: Tight end Ben Sullivan joined the Wildcats last summer following a stellar career at Salpointe Catholic High School. The 6-foot-1-inch, 222-pound Sullivan was born in London and raised in Milton, Mass.; he verbally committed to Holy Cross before deciding to walk on at the UA.

• The big number: 2,000. The first 2,000 Wildcat Club members who RSVP to the UA will be allowed to watch this afternoon's scrimmage, which is otherwise closed to the public and the media.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS BY COMMITTEE

Six UA assistant coaches will share special teams duties this season. Here's how their assignments break down:

• Punt and punt coverage: Receivers coach Tony Dews

• Field goal: Tight ends coach Spencer Leftwich

• Field goal block: Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich

• Punt return: Safeties coach Tony Gibson

• Kickoff: Safeties coach Tony Gibson

• Kickoff return: Running backs coach/co-offensive coordinator Calvin Magee

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Pac-12 South football standings

Team W L T PCT
Arizona 5 1 0 0.833
Utah 5 1 0 0.833
USC 5 2 0 0.714
ASU 5 1 0 0.833
UCLA 5 2 0 0.714
Colorado 3 4 0 0.429

Pac-12 North football standings

Team W L T PCT
Oregon 6 1 0 0.857
Oregon State 4 2 0 0.667
Stanford 4 3 0 0.571
Washington 5 2 0 0.714
Cal 4 3 0 0.571
Washington State 2 5 0 0.286
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