The No. 4-ranked Wildcats spent their next-to-last day in camp with a lot of work on special teams play and coach Dick Tomey had some optimistic words about the team's two kickers, senior placement specialist Mark McDonald and redshirt sophomore punter Chris Palic.
"Palic is looking more and more consistent," he said of the player whose first foray into college football came as an emergency replacement during a game against Stanford in 1997 -- when not only was his name not stitched to his jersey but he wasn't listed on the pressbox roster.
"Chris is much more comfortable and it shows. When he first kicked (as a true freshman) we had to just throw him in there. He did a decent job, but the redshirt season (1998) and some hard work has really helped him. He's made some good improvement," Tomey said.
McDonald's three field goals on as many attempts helped beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, capping a less than stellar 8-for-17 season in 1998. "He's coming off a great game and appears ready to build on that success," which included a career-best 48-yarder, Tomey said.
"We feel very good about those two guys," he said.
Daily practices have included considerable work on other aspects of special teams' play. "We've worked hard on the kicking game. At this time of the year your offense lacks some timing. (Skill position players) haven't been hit the way they will in a game. Special teams always seem to have a big impact on early-season games," Tomey said.
The Cats open the year at No. 3 Penn State in the Pigskin Classic Aug. 28 in State College, Pa., marking only the second time two top five teams have played in a preseason game. The other was the 1983 Kickoff Classic when No. 4 Penn State played No. 1 Nebraska.
Notes: The Cats have tapered some of the physical regimen and appear in good overall health at the close of camp. Starting wide receiver Dennis Northcutt (groin) returned to practice Tuesday. Starting wide receiver Brad Brennan (hamstring) resumed running. Backup tailback Leo Mills (shoulder) was back in uniform and involved in most conditioning drills. ... All newcomers have a "big brother" veteran on the team and Tomey's had the latter take turns introducing the incoming player to the whole team at the close of practices the last five days. ... Several new guys appear to have won starting spots on special teams -- junior rush end Austin Uku, freshman wide receiver Bobby Wade and junior defensive back Zaharius Johnson.