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JC transfer Salazar gets a leg up in place-kicking competition

Jaime Salazar

Jaime Salazar made 14 of 15 field goal attempts in junior college last season.

The battle at place-kicker has probably been Arizona’s most compelling competition of fall camp, and its most democratic.

Chart every kick … see who wins.

For now, as the coaches digest all the evidence, there appears to change coming, with junior college transfer Jaime Salazar edging ahead of two-year starter Alex Zendejas.

“We’re still competing, but Jaime moved kind of ahead of Alex right now,” coach Mike Stoops said after Tuesday’s practice. “We’ll continue to compete as we go through.”

Zendejas was having a reasonable 2010 season, until the final regular-season game. At that point, he had hit 12 of 15 field goals, with a long of 47 yards and a miss from 48. But it wasn’t the field goals that turned his world upside down.

You know what happened: He had two extra point attempts blocked against Arizona State — one in the final minute, and the other at the end of the second overtime — making him the bad guy in the painful loss to the Sun Devils.

He followed up by making just one of 1 of 3 field goal attempts in the Alamo Bowl.

Zendejas’ low trajectory, more than his accuracy, has been his undoing. He has had nine kicks blocked, including seven PATs, in two seasons.

So, the coaches brought in Salazar from Trinity Valley Community College in Texas. He hasn’t looked like the second coming of Steve McLaughlin — Salazar has been inconsistent in fall scrimmages, too — but it looks as if he’ll get a chance to swing his right leg in the season opener against NAU on Sept. 3.

The coaches just might to see Salazar under game conditions, see how he reacts.

“I think you have to have a reliable kicker,” Stoops said.

“Or it just makes your offense do things and press in the red zone. You gotta have three points. When we get down there, you have to have at least that on a consistent basis. And right now, it’s just too inconsistent.”

In other special teams news, sophomore cornerback Jonathan McKnight and David Douglas will handle punt-return duties. Arizona has dispatched Douglas, a senior, in this role in previous seasons when it wants a good-hands player back there to simply catch the ball.

On kick returns, Arizona will use redshirt freshman Garic Wharton, the fastest player on the team, and true freshman Ka’Deem Carey, who broke off a return of about 40 yards in Saturday’s scrimmage. The Wildcats should be formidable in this area.

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