RENO - Nevada's punt and kickoff coverage teams have been a work in progress this season.
The two units are on the upswing, and Barry Sacks, the Pack's special teams coordinator, hopes that trend continues into the New Mexico Bowl game against New Mexico.
Nevada is allowing just 20.3 a kick return and 10.5 on punt returns. The first stat isn't bad. Nevada has done a better job of keeping opponents from breaking long returns.
"We have gotten a lot better," Sacks said Saturday before practice. "We have spent a lot of time and effort.
"We had a bunch of guys that had never been in that situation before. They have gained experience through the year. There have been growing pains like anything else."
Andy McIntosh, who had 12 tackles this season, said there weren't a lot of changes, but that there was movement between the members on the two units.
"People understand that they can't take plays off, and they are going to go in your lane," McIntosh said. "Each time you're out there on special teams you have a chance to make an impact. We moved some people to different spots; put them where they were best suited."
Besides McIntosh, Sacks has been full of praise for safety Kevin Grimes and outside linebacker Cameron Bayne.
Grimes finished the regular season with 24 tackles and was named the top special teams player on the team. Bayne was next with 15 tackles and McIntosh finished with 12.
"Andy has played extremely well," Sacks said. "Cameron Bayne and Grimes did a helluva job. We even brought Jeremy Engstrom back on kickoffs and Nick Fuhr on punts and he's a starting defensive end."
McIntosh, Bayne and Grimes are all in the same boat. They all want to play snaps from scrimmage, but have accepted the fact that those chances may be few and far between.
"We (Andy and I) joke around, and we feed off each other," Grimes said. "We compete in that sense. You want to get out there on the field anyway you can and make plays, and hopefully get some snaps for myself."
Grimes came to Nevada as a running back, but has since been shifted to the defensive backfield, and certainly has a shot at getting some time compared to the crowded offensive backfield. He certainly has an opportunity in nickel and dime coverages to get on the field.
Bayne, who prepped at Carlin High, worked out at outside linebacker on Saturday, but is considered a defensive back.
"We've shut people down," Bayne said. "We've had a lot of tackles inside the 20. When we make a tackle inside the 20 we get an award.
"When you're (pretty much) playing special teams, you have to go out and make plays. When that is your chance to get on the field, you have to take advantage of it."
AMAYA GETTING HEALTHY
Jon Amaya isn't quite 100 percent, but her should be close by the time the New Mexico Bowl rolls around on Dec. 22.
Amaya suffered a knee injury in the Pack's seventh game and only returned to action for the Hawaii and Louisiana Tech games.
"It's getting better," Amaya said before Nevada's Friday practice. "It was kind of frustrating, because I didn't think I would be out this long. I'm just glad I was able to make it back before the end of the season."
Amaya was converted to corner right before the season started, and played well. He had an 80-yard interception return for a score in the season-opener against Nebraska.
"The last game (Tech) he played well," defensive coordinator Ken Wilson said. "He hasn't been in the brace for a couple of weeks, so he's moving pretty well.
"We'll rotate him in there (with Justin Jackson and Uche Anyanwu). He's still going to play corner at times defending what kind of defense we are in. In our nickel and dime, all three safeties play."
Amaya said he's more comfortable at safety than at corner. He's been a tremendous run supporter, and that's much easier to do when you are playing downhill.
"It's a different mindset (at corner)," Amaya said. "I'm getting a little more comfortable there."
Ten past and current Nevada football players received their diplomas during winter commencement exercises at Lawlor Events Center.
Matt Hines, Jay Dixon, Paul Pratt, Ezra Butler and Nick Fuhr are the current players. J.J. Milan, Travis Moore, Caleb Spencer, Fred White and Ross Wolter graduated after finishing their careers in 2006.
A COLD PRACTICE
Nevada practiced for two hours in freezing cold temperatures, and snow fell hard at the beginning of the practice. By the end of practice, snow covered the entire playing surface at Wolf Pack Park.