Special Teams Set for Utah Opener

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Most times, two out of three isn't bad.

Sixty seven percent from the hardwood is exceptional. A hitter goes 2-for-3 and he leaves the game satisfied.

But when only two of three parts of a team function, you run into problems, as Cal head football coach Tom Holmoe's special teams unit found last fall.

The Bears featured the best punter-return specialist combo in the nation. But an equally crucial component was subpar, and that went a long way toward explaining Cal's 4-7 finish.

The Bears' place-kicking game was atrocious in 1999. Three Cal kickers combined to go 5-for-15 on field-goal attempts. Cal didn't convert on a single attempt from more than 40 yards out.

This season, Holmoe is looking for a return to respectability in his team's kicking performance. With this in mind, he has named sophomore Mark-Christian Jensen the starting place-kicker over sophomore Jeremy Hershey and redshirt freshman Tyler Fredrickson.

"All three improved a lot (since last season)," Holmoe said. "Mark did a good job last year, but he didn't nail it. (This year) it wasn't just his strength (that won him the job). It was his accuracy, emotional stability and confidence."

Jensen was the Bears' most consistent performer last season, converting 4 of 8 field goals and 12 of 13 point-after tries.

Jensen isn't the only change in Cal's special teams unit. After wide receivers and special teams coach Dan Ferrigno left for USC last winter, Holmoe assumed personal responsibility for the special teams.

Although Holmoe oversees the unit now, he hasn't changed its structure. Each unit - field goal, field-goal block, kickoff return, kickoff coverage, punt return and punt coverage - is led by a different position coach now. Wide receivers coach Ken Margerum coaches kickoff return, running backs coach Ron Gould coaches punt return, and so on.

"Really not that much has changed," Holmoe said. "We were pretty solid last year and we're continuing in that vein."

Since there is no coach overseeing the punter and kickers themselves, Holmoe has taken charge of them. He is quick to point out that he coaches the best punter in the nation.

Nick Harris returns from a junior season in which he ranked seventh nationally in punting average (44.6 yards per game) and pinned opponents inside their 20-yard line 21 times. He was named to Playboy's preseason All-America team and should continue to give opposing teams nightmares with field position this season.

On the other hand, the Bears lost one of the best return specialists in the country when Deltha O'Neal graduated to the NFL last spring. LaShaun Ward and Chidi Iwuoma will team up on kickoff returns, while Iwuoma will be Cal's lone punt returner.


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