Posted by: petemangurian | May 3, 2012

Spring Game, Special teams

In the grand scheme of things, we spent a considerable amount of time on Special Teams. We may be the type of team that will need to manufacture points in the kicking game, but that remains to be seen. “Teams” are where careers are started and toughness can be developed. In our case, young players will get their chance and “program guys” can have a role. On every team there are those players who are a step slow, don’t have the prototypical size or lack the ball skills needed to be a full-time starter. In a lot of cases these are the overachievers who can make you better from the bottom up. We all search for those five to six “core” special teams players – the unselfish guys you trust and the tough guys who just want to play.

As I have said several times throughout this process, our number one objective was to identify those players who would fit into our system and philosophy. We worked three separate periods a day on special team fundamentals. We spent only a couple of days on the actual schemes. We felt we could teach the skills, and evaluate the players, without adding the assignment component. As we would expect, doing it in a drill and doing it on the field are very different. But we have enough to teach off of, and more importantly, we know who can count on.

During the scrimmage we mirrored six to eight situations with both the Ones and the Twos. We had some late substitutions, that I was not happy with. Those errors provided another lesson to learn, and another chance to coach it. Just getting eleven players on the field should not be that tough, “bad football”.

Kick off coverage sets the tempo. You either have scored and are trying to keep momentum, or you are starting a game or a half, and are trying to get momentum. The first day I ever met with the team I told them, we are going to find our ten toughest, fastest, most physical players and they are going to cover kick offs. Our timing with the kickers was acceptable. There is a new rule this year that cover guys can be no further than five yards from the ball. This limits a running start to five yards, and it used to be ten. I was not pleased with the coverage away from the location of the ball. Some of it was technique, some was awareness, either way it needs to improve. The actual kicks were acceptable, good location and hang time. We did have a kickoff go out of bounds, again, “bad football.” As for returns, Fisher, Grant , Deveau and Braddock, all had a chance to handle the ball. We may have some competition here from the incoming freshmen. I was pleased with the initial fits on the Kickoff return units, although we set up to close to the returner at times.

We have implemented a new punt protection system. Matt Thurin, our special teams coach, believes in it and I’m becoming an advocate the more I watch and understand it. The concepts are simple, consistent and clear. In short we can teach it, and the players can execute it. The punting was good – good distance, hang time and with one exception, good direction. We lacked proper spacing at times around the returner, but there were numerous examples of what we have worked on, executed correctly. Our hold up on the returns was a strong point. The drills we did during practice were evident and our effort was what we expect. There are a lot of little things that we missed, but overall I was pleased with the punting phase.

As pleased as I was with punting, I was equally disappointed in the place kicking. Poor kicking, poor protection, and overall poor execution. Our rush was effective, due to poor protection, not outstanding rush attempts. WE have a long way to go in this area, and it will be an emphasis during training camp.

In review, we played everyone to see what they would do. We will be much more deliberate in our personnel moves and decisions come August. In a perfect world you play a limited number of full-time starters on teams. I don’t know if we will have that luxury. I feel we have identified the people who can be core special team players for us. I think we have identified the players who really don’t have the skill set or make-up to be special team players. As with every other phase of our development , I believe the freshmen will have an impact on this area, as blockers, cover players, rushers and most importantly as returners.

As a side note, I have spent the last four days, meeting with each player individually.


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