Improving chemistry was the theme when spring practice began last year and it remained so during the offseason.
After fielding what he called the closest-knit team since he has been a head coach, coach Pat Fitzgerald has shifted the emphasis elsewhere heading into spring practice this season.
He claims the Wildcats were five minutes, three seconds away from going undefeated in 2012 and wants his players to be reminded of that daily.
Players even have 5:03 printed on the back of their jerseys.
"We were 5:03 away from being undefeated," Fitzgerald said. "That's an incredible motivator. We looked hard at the reasons why that happened and it's one thing to talk about it and another thing to create those habits. So in all of our workouts we have created 5:03 worth of work. And it just doesn't come at the end of the workout; it can come at any time where we go into that phase where we need better focus, execution, technique, finish, communication ... There are a myriad of variables that created why we didn't finish those games that we very easily could have. We've taken the attitude that we'll find a way to make that up in the offseason."
Players appeared to be buying in after the first spring practice.
"That's a thing we started, we do 5:03 of a particular exercise to build team chemistry and build the building blocks so those 5:03 don't happen again and we can pull out those games we lost last season," safety Ibraheim Campbell said.
Here are a few other highlights from Fitzgerald's Wednesday presser:
On whether quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian will share snaps again next season: "Absolutely. I thought a year ago, the way [offensive coordinator] Mick [McCall] and our offensive staff were able to put together a plan to use both Kain's and Trevor's skill sets gave us a chance to win a championship. Now we just have to keep honing that package and making it better but both those guys can help us win."
Offensive linemen Matt Frazier, Paul Jorgensen, Jack Konopka, Alex Pietrzak and defensive linemen Deonte Gibson, and Will Hampton will not participate in team activities this spring because of physical maintenance issues, which often include minor offseason surgeries. It's the same for running back Michael Panico, wide receivers Kyle Prater and Andrew Scanlan, super back Jack Schwaba and defensive backs Nick VanHoose and Jarrell Williams.
"All of our guys will come back and be somewhere close to full go by the end of spring practice," Fitzgerald said. "Will they practice? No. But they'll be pretty close to being cleared completely medically, so when we go into the next phase, which is preparation for our summer, those guys will be full go, which is part of the reason we moved spring ball up."
Konopka is the likely starter at left tackle next season, replacing graduating senior Patrick Ward. Konopka moved from tight end to right tackle and played well last season.
"If we had to make a decision today, he'd probably be the left tackle," Fitzgerald said of Konopka. "But we'll see how that unfolds. The great news about him not being out there in the spring is we'll get to see some of these other guys who might not have gotten as many reps."