By Charles Renning
Chris Coduto/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Placekicker Nick Folk kicks off during Arizona's game against Oregon State Oct. 30 at Arizona Stadium. Oregon State beat Arizona 28-14.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
August 30, 2005
In the Arizona football program's recent history, the special teams units have been anything but special.
Like every other area of the 2005 Wildcats, the special teams come into the year with high hopes and the promise of an improved unit.
The numbers, talent and potential are all there, but only time will tell if the athletes produce.
Junior Nick Folk returns as the team's placekicker, coming off a season when he hit 8-of-13 field goal attempts, including a 53-yarder in the 2004 season finale win over in-state rival ASU.
Arizona head coach Mike Stoops said he expects the kicking game to be a strong point with this year's squad. Folk hit all five of his field goal attempts in fall scrimmages and looked sharp even from long distances in practice.
Many people will remember the two field goals Folk missed against nationally ranked Wisconsin in the Wildcats' 9-7 loss last season, especially the one as time expired from 47 yards out.
Both of those kicks were in rainy, soggy conditions and were close misses. Folk has the experience from kicking in game-winning situations and will undoubtedly be called on this year to come through in the clutch.
Senior Danny Baugher enters the year as the Wildcats' career leader in total punts, an accomplishment boosted by the team's lack of offensive production over the last three years.
If Baugher doesn't come close to last season's punt total of 74, don't expect the Wildcats to be disappointed.
If Arizona gets into defensive battles where field position will be key, there might not be anyone more important than Baugher, who has a career average of 41 yards per kick.
Junior Syndric Steptoe led the Wildcats in both kick returns and average (22.6 yards) last season and will probably handle the return duties this year.
Arizona does have several guys who could also handle the return duties, including sophomores B.J. Dennard and Chris Henry, as well as a pair of speedsters in freshman Michael Thomas and junior Dramayne McElroy.
The coaching staff this season has made it a point to improve the team's production on kick returns, and with a team that will probably rely heavily on its defense, good field position will be a must.
Many of the same players who will be asked to return kickoffs could also field punts. Last season, junior Ryan Eidson was the team leader in punt returns with 11 and a 9.6-yard average return.
As important, if not more so, than the kick and punt returners will be the units that block for them. It will be important for the Wildcat returners to have lanes to run through, and if they get those seams, they must make the most of them.