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Volume 70, Issue 130, Friday, April 15, 2005

Sports

O-line hit by injuries; special teams grow

Spring football nears end with Red-White game Saturday, 
kick returners look to improve

By Sam Khan Jr.
The Daily Cougar

This is the fourth and final part of the spring football series giving fans an early look at the 2005 Cougars leading up to the Red-White spring game Saturday. Today, we look at the offensive line and special teams. 

There's an old joke in football: A reporter asks a coach, "What do you think of the execution of your offensive line?"

The coach answers: "I'm all for it."


The offensive line will look to recover from injuries that have plagued the team over Spring training, which has seen two starters with potentially season-ending injuries.
Daily Cougar File Photo

While the performance of the UH offensive line last season may not have forced its coaches to come to this conclusion, the Cougar offense certainly left a lot to be desired. One reason was because they lost three senior starters from 2003. 

While many anticipated more stability this season with only one 2004 senior lineman exiting (left tackle Phil Hawkins), there are still question marks along the line, thanks to the injury bug that's hit the Cougars.

Injuries plague the O-Line

It has mainly been the right side of the offensive line, where guard Byron Alfred and tackle Jeff Akeroyd, who both were competing for starting spots, went down with knee injuries that will force them to miss at least a significant portion, if not all, of the 2005 season. It's no surprise that the coaches and players are happy that spring practice is nearing its end given all the absences.

"We're just going to come out here and try to have a good last couple of days of spring ball," senior guard Roy Swan said. "We don't want anybody else getting hurt."

As long as they can make it to the start of the season healthy, the rest of the line looks stable. Senior David Douglas and sophomore Jason Wagner will have increased roles with the injuries, Swan and junior center Sterling Doty will return to their starting spots, and talented sophomore SirVincent Rogers will make the transition to left tackle.

"He's good; I like playing with him," Swan said of Rogers, who played right tackle last season. "We've got a good chemistry together. He's come in and learned the position really quickly, so come fall we will be a good unit."

Though the injuries have been difficult to deal with, teammates say they've got to pick up the slack, as well.

"We've got to help the offensive line out, too," receiver Vincent Marshall said. "Receivers have to run good routes, and running backs need to run the ball hard to make it easier on them."

Special teams hope to improve on not-so-special 04

There are some similar question marks in some areas of special teams. Last season, the special teams weren't up to par in a few spots -- punting and returning kicks, especially -- so this season, some players will be taking on extra responsibilities and be asked to excel while doing so. 

In the kicking department, junior Justin Laird is likely to wind up punting and kicking off. Last season, Laird saw part-time duty punting; he averaged 39.8 yards per punt and looks to improve upon that significantly.

"I've been working on my consistency," Laird said. "That's what I had the most trouble with last year."

Laird will also compete for place-kicking duties with incoming freshman Garrett LeFevre, a 6-foot, 230-pound kicker from Spring who signed with the Cougars in March.

In the return game, coaches and players alike are excited to see the return of Ricky Wilson, the 5-foot-10-inch, 180-pound sophomore who's fast, explosive and always a threat to take it the distance. Wilson figures to return kicks, a duty he held in 2003, averaging 26.1 yards per kickoff return and earning a place in the Conference USA All-Freshman team. He expects to return punts in addition to contributing as a receiver and is glad to be back in the fold after having to sit out in 2004.

The return game in 2004 was difficult to watch for anybody, as the Cougars averaged less than 20 yards per kick return and a meager 6.2 yards per punt, but it was especially difficult for Wilson, who was ineligible.

"I had to sit back and watch, and I couldn't do anything about it," he said. "I knew if I were in there, I could have made something happen."

While many fans and critics pointed to the reduced offensive production as a reason for the Cougars' lack of success last year, special teams had a part in it, too, often failing to get the offense into the field position it needed to succeed, something a lot of people don't realize.

"Special teams is a huge part of football, and that's what a lot of fans don't understand," Laird said. "Field position is everything, and if we can take care of that, there's no limit for this team."

Going bowling

As practices wind down towards the Red-White game Saturday, optimism is flowing at its highest, causing some to start making predictions on the coming season.

"We're going to a bowl game this year," Wilson said. "We've got high expectations, and we're going to win this season."

Spring game Saturday

They've run, hit, thrown, caught, snapped, kicked and even been hurt. And now they play.

Fans get a chance to get an early glimpse of the 2005 Cougar football team at the annual Red-White Game 1 p.m. Saturday at the John O'Quinn field at Robertson Stadium.

Admission to the scrimmage is free for all fans, and seating is general admission throughout the stadium.

Send comments to dcsports@mail.uh.edu

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