What’s Georgia Tech’s special teams fix?

Greetings-

I am going to write a special teams story for Thursday’s paper as it seems to be a bit of a topic this week. I’ll tell you off the top – I don’t think hiring a special teams coordinator is necessarily the solution.

The flaws are easy to point out. Punter Sean Poole has nailed several booming kicks that have been covered perfectly, like his 52-yarder against Miami that netted 54. But he’s also mishit a bunch. Kickoff specialist David Scully, like Justin Moore before him, have had trouble reaching the goal line. Moore has had a pretty rough year kicking field goals.

I see where it makes sense to say, special teams needs its own coach, someone who can spend all his time on the kickers and punters honing their technique, improving the kickoff return game and telling Zach Laskey not to pick up a bouncing punt inside the 10-yard line. On the ACC teleconference Wednesday, I asked Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe about the pros and cons of having a coach dedicated exclusively to special teams, which he’d decided to do for the first time this year. He said it has turned out well, that he liked having a coach who could spend the whole practice with the specialists and could spend all of his time during the day preparing the game plan, studying film, etc.

Wake Forest kicker Jimmy Newman is 13-for-14 on field goals, which validates Grobe’s argument. The only problem is, Wake’s punting unit is about as ineffective as Tech’s. Tech’s net punting average is 34.9 yards and Wake’s is 34.4. (If you’re wondering, Wake’s average isn’t skewed by a long return, either. The longest punt return against the Deacons this year is 23 yards.) Their kickoff return units are just about the same (20.9 yards for Wake, 19.6 for Tech), and I’d say that Tech’s kickoff return team is the most underperforming unit on special teams. Despite Wake putting nine kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, to Tech’s four, its net kickoff coverage is less than 3 yards better than Tech’s.

Florida State looks like it has far and away the best special teams in the conference this season. The Seminoles are first in kickoff coverage (they have 19 touchbacks, which I imagine must make you salivate), first in punt net, second in kickoff returns and fourth in punt return average. Kicker Dustin Hopkins is 12-for-13 on field goals. However, they’re managing that despite essentially handling special teams the way that Tech does. Their special teams coordinator is also their running backs coach. Tech secondary coach Charles Kelly doesn’t have a special teams coordinator title, but he serves in that capacity.

Virginia Tech, widely regarded as having some of the best special teams in the country under coach Frank Beamer, had all kinds punting problems earlier in the year. I read something kind of interesting about Beamer this week. He said that he never coaches his kickers and punters on technique and he tells his staff to leave them alone, also. He lets their private coaches do all of the technique stuff.

The other thing is this: if not having a special teams coordinator was the real problem, then the problems would be systemic. However, Tech has blocked or deflected two field goals and a punt. The long snapping has been fine (and I realize that sounds ridiculous, but I imagine no one would have any problems arguing it the other way if a few long snaps had been botched). Tech’s punt cover unit wouldn’t be as good as they are when Poole does hit it well. Punt returner Zach Laskey wouldn’t have an 8.5 yards-per-return average. Scott Blair wouldn’t have been 15-for-17 last year on field-goal tries and Poole wouldn’t have averaged 39.5 yards per punt prior to his knee injury.

I’d say the kickoff return unit probably needs to be coached better and its players need to execute better. Other than that, it’s hard to know what to do. Laskey brain cramped at the absolute wrong moment, but he’d been doing pretty well up to that point this season. Poole and Scully have the leg (not the same one) but are having all kinds of consistency problems. And that’s it (although that’s a lot). If they were kicking with reasonable consistency, special teams wouldn’t be an issue. (I realize that saying if Tech’s kickers were better, then the special teams would be better, is a bit dippy. But that’s what it is.)

Their ability to perform consistently ultimately falls on Johnson – he gave them scholarships and is responsible for their coaching. Perhaps it’d be better if a coach were with them all the time refining technique, but as I mentioned earlier, that approach has helped Wake Forest be .5 yards worse at punt net and it’s the exact opposite methodology of the coaching staff with traditionally the best special teams units (Virginia Tech).

And I’m going to guess that Laskey knew to not field a bouncing punt. After Miami scored, he came to the sideline, Johnson said, owned his mistake and said he didn’t know why he tried to field it. But I’m not sure if having a full-time special-teams coach telling him a few more times to not field a bouncing punt than he’d already been told would have prevented that. It was a bad mistake by a true freshman, and maybe that’s the extent of it.

Further, having a full-time special teams coach would take away one position coach from the offense (Tech’s staff has five offensive assistants and four defensive) and I’m not sure anyone at this point is going to say the offense needs less coaching.

I realize I’m only addressing this year’s issues. I get the sense that special teams hasn’t, at the least, been a great strength. I’m not sure how I feel about essentially agreeing with Johnson on this. (Perhaps this would make Johnson a little uneasy, also.) Ultimately, he’s responsible for special teams. He’s responsible for the coaching and the players he’s putting on the field who, to this point, are underperforming.

I’d have to think that the coaching can somehow be better, perhaps on the visualization and confidence-building side, as that’s where so much of kicking is, and if that’s the case, then that’s Johnson responsibility. I have little doubt that the specialists are killing themselves trying to be more consistent, but maybe they’re just not having very good seasons. It happens sometimes. I will bet that Johnson will spend a lot of time in the offseason trying to figure out how to improve the unit. But I don’t know that a full-time special teams coach is the solution.

Links

The Anderson Independent Mail reports that Dabo Swinney expects running back Andre Ellington to play Saturday, that guard Brandon Thomas has gotten out of Swinney’s doghouse and that Clemson is much better in the second half than it is the first (not that the Tigers are chopped liver in the first).

A Charleston Post and Courier story about Clemson’s defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s emphasis on angles. The Post and Courier also provides the weekly “How do you stop Tech’s offense?” story, although this one is much better than most. Lastly, a column about the Tech-Clemson rivalry and the 2009 ACC championship game.

Stan Awtrey offers his take on Tech’s special teams for the Macon Telegraph and an Associated Press story about the Tigers’ fearsome offense.

Matt Winkeljohn’s typically incisive analysis for Sting Daily.

Thanks for reading. I’ll have the injury report up early evening and something up Friday morning. And my thanks to those of you who offered to make copies of the 1990 UVA-Tech game for Calvin Tiggle. We’ve got it taken care of. Much obliged.

Please follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog

264 comments Add your comment

Supersize that order, mutt

October 27th, 2011
10:39 am

Enter your comments here

Supersize that order, mutt

October 27th, 2011
10:40 am

WOW, am I really FIRST??? LOL

Supersize that order, mutt

October 27th, 2011
10:40 am

Ken, excellent report. Very insightful and thought-provoking.

5150 UOAD

October 27th, 2011
10:41 am

ramblingbuzz

October 27th, 2011
10:41 am

GO Jackets. Let’s win this Saturday!!!

Hayseed Dixie

October 27th, 2011
10:42 am

Special teams at their best, say, in the NFL, have an air of being boring and routine. (Hence CPJs fake punts and FGs).

The Jackets have made just enough mistakes so that when they take the field on special teams they’re a bit juiced, a bit worrisome, a bit tense. This leads to mistakes.

Part of Devin Hester’s thing is that he gets the opposing special team wondering and fearful. When he sets to return a kick you can visibly see the other team taking a deep breath. His reputation helps him score almost as much as his speed.

It’s a mental thing for the Jackets across the board, anyone who’s knows a lick of football can see that. Let’s hope being at BDS will prove to be the change they need.

5150 UOAD

October 27th, 2011
10:43 am

Super did you even read the article? LOL
I don’t know if the Special Teams need a Coach, but they do need more time practicing it for sure.

5150 UOAD

October 27th, 2011
10:44 am

Special Teams might not need a full time coach, but they do need more practice on it during the week.

Hayseed Dixie

October 27th, 2011
10:45 am

Special teams play needs to be a bit boring and routine, you see that in the NFL. It’s probably why the Jackets reportedly do STs well in practice.

However, the Jackets have made just enough mistakes on special teams to make them fearful and juiced up when they take the field.

You see this when Devin Hester sets to return a kick, the other team visibly takes a deep breath. When you’ve lost the game mentally, well, then- good luck.

Across the board the Jackets problems are mental ones. Let’s hope the return to BDS will prove to be the change they need.

5150 UOAD

October 27th, 2011
10:46 am

We better not try to PUNT to Clemson. Run a play or kick it out of bounds.

Easy fix...

October 27th, 2011
10:54 am

…do NOT punt to either Hopkins or Watkins; put kick-offs out of bounds. But, how we are going to stop Hopkins and Watkins from catching the ball in their regular offense is another question for another blog…

Supersize that order, mutt

October 27th, 2011
10:54 am

UOAD, have you heard anything from 19? He indicated an interest in tickets last night, but he never responded to the post I made about it. I would post something to him and 5 minutes later he would post on an entirely different blog, wanting to know where I was. I don’t know why there was such a delay and a constant switching of blogs, but we never were able to communicate.

Jacket Man

October 27th, 2011
10:54 am

Big surprises come Saturday night…join us or be sure to tune in; it’s bound to be an exciting environment and hard-fought game.

ramblingbuzz

October 27th, 2011
10:54 am

Who returns KOs for Clem’s Son? Is that Watkins?

carolinajacket

October 27th, 2011
10:55 am

At every kickoff to Clemson in the UNC game the color analyst kept saying “don’t kick it to the deep man.” He is really good. We better remember to remember his warning.

Supersize that order, mutt

October 27th, 2011
10:57 am

carolina, unfortunately, it appears that our kick-off man doesn’t really have any control over where his kicks go.

Also, as Ken noted...

October 27th, 2011
10:57 am

…Beamer is the Special Teams coach at VT, and Urban Meyer was the Special Teams coach at UF…so players are definitely coached “up” when the head man is specifically involved…

yellow britches

October 27th, 2011
10:57 am

I guess the Miami fiasco qualifies as “ugly”. But really, this Clemson game could get really, really ugly early. A turnover, a shanked punt giving Clemson a short field and this thing could get totally out of hand. I would hate to see a majority Orange stadium early into the second half, kind of like the LSU Chick Fill A game at the Georgia Dome several years ago, but it could happen. We need better athletes. That’s it.

5150 UOAD

October 27th, 2011
10:57 am

I haven’t seen 19 today. I will be on the blog Off & On today.

Supersize that order, mutt

October 27th, 2011
10:59 am

UOAD, I will be on the blogs off and on throughout the day too. I will be out from about 5PM till 9:30PM tonight though

Hey, ramblinbuzz......

October 27th, 2011
11:00 am

…Watkins is usually the deep back on kickoff for Clemson…but, the 2 deep guys also line up in an “I” formation tandam, so trying to kick “away” from the deep back does not work, unless the kicker is really good a kicking it high and deep toward the sideline without kicking it out of bounds.

Supersize that order, mutt

October 27th, 2011
11:02 am

Again, that would imply that our kicker can “place” his kicks. He can’t (or at least hasn’t) done that

Technically Correct

October 27th, 2011
11:02 am

So, basically, the solution is to recruit better players…

OptionBee

October 27th, 2011
11:10 am

The problem with special teams is not the need for a “Special Teams Coach”, but the need for Johnson to make changes in this staff!! This is a weak staff with many being Johnson’s friends from years past. He needs to realize that in order to reach the brass ring, he needs a staff that can actually recruit true D-1 talent, and can coach competitively with other ACC and SEC staffs. We simply do not have that now! If staffs were race cars, Saban would be driving a Indy car, and Paul would be showing up with a 76 Gremlin! Everyone needs to focus on staff, not special teams coach!!

lewisbuzzard

October 27th, 2011
11:14 am

Here’s a novel idea. Lets kick every kick onsides. If we get say 2 out of say 6 we at least earn extra possessions. Given Clemson’s explosive offense they are going to score everytime they get it anyways so lets limit the possessions. Also don’t punt. Heck when you only punt it 5 yards you really aren’t gaining an advantage anyways.

carolinajacket

October 27th, 2011
11:18 am

OK, lets go back to ancient history. The forgetable 1976 team, coached by Pepper Rogers. Tech beats a highly ranked Notre Dame team, running the wishbone, and not attempting even one pass. Miracles never cease to happen. Keep the faith gang.

DS_CE91

October 27th, 2011
11:24 am

Not sure that our primary problem this week will be special teams. We have to contain the big play – man, they have some weapons on offense. Also, we have GOT to find a way to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers – Smith and Hill. If we don’t do those two things, the game might get a bit ugly.

Still, I am pulling hard as always. GO JACKETS!!!

5150 UOAD

October 27th, 2011
11:24 am

Reggie ball beat Auburn 2 times when the Tigers were ranked. Miracles do happen.

Jacket1985

October 27th, 2011
11:25 am

A 5-star scholarshiped kicker who could consistently put it in the end zone would really help. ThUGA certainly never seems to have a problem finding that kind of guy.

GT Dude

October 27th, 2011
11:27 am

So if you theory is correct that they are just having a bad season then I suggest we get the kickers and returners in to see a sports psychiatrist immediately. Remember what it did for John Smoltz when he lost control :-)
Stay Thirsty my Friends

Ken Sugiura

October 27th, 2011
11:29 am

i like the way you think, Lewis. somehow, i think clemson might catch on to the onside-kick ruse.

Supersize that order, mutt

October 27th, 2011
11:34 am

Jacket1985, in general what you said is correct, but even the mutts are having kicking problems this year.

GTBob

October 27th, 2011
11:39 am

lewisbuzzard, I love your idea. I would add also that we should bring the house on every punt. No returner out there ever. Lets start a trend of extremely aggressive special teams.

macrotech

October 27th, 2011
11:40 am

We need to do whatever it takes for our special teams to not be SO special! GO TECH!!!

wrecked

October 27th, 2011
11:44 am

Recruit better players, hire better coaches.

The Bamboo Shaft

October 27th, 2011
12:00 pm

IMO the root cause of the problem is personnel. Teams with good STs usually have better personnel up and down their rosters, as STs generally don’t use starters.

TechFanForever

October 27th, 2011
12:01 pm

Ken, love the double take on the word “mishit”. At first I thought you intended to say something different than mis-hit.

Interesting concept on the onside kick strategy.

I have often thought that if we are in a battle like the FSU game where both teams are scoring TD’s left and right, then we should develop a “GO FOR TWO” strategy every time we score a TD. If we succeed greater than 50% then the opponent is forced to score more times than us.

Uh, wasn't...

October 27th, 2011
12:10 pm

…Sean Bradford a walk-on before earning a scholarship? And, I believe Tech now has Liberal Arts majors, but they still have to take calculus…

The Bamboo Shaft

October 27th, 2011
12:17 pm

Ken, your second Post and Courier link has an error in its URL. And the Macon article now requires registration again. It was that way for a while then they removed the requirement, but now it seems to be back.

Buzzpilot

October 27th, 2011
12:18 pm

Ken, how many teams have 2 Off Line Coaches like Tech?

Johnson has a history of bad Special Teams and undersize younger players that end up playing special teams. We can not recruite the depth of FSU or UGA, we need a Special Teams Coach who can coach up our smaller younger players!

K

October 27th, 2011
12:30 pm

Johnson knows what needs to be done!
Just do it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

GIVE ME A BREAK

October 27th, 2011
12:30 pm

Develope some pride for offense,defense and special teams. Award a yellow jacket to be put on the helmet of the player, on each team, that makes the best play of the game.

wakes

October 27th, 2011
12:33 pm

Easy. Get all new players, coaches and a new AD

ToeMeetsLeather

October 27th, 2011
12:34 pm

Hey, at this point the defense is outperforming the offense by a pretty wide margin. We have to kick it deep ( I know, I know) and play for the turnover and short field for the offense. The defense will have to play their best game of the year and hope that TW has some time to operate. Gonna hurt not having Finch. The guys will have to bring their A-game and leave on the field!

GIVE ME A BREAK

October 27th, 2011
12:38 pm

” develop “

Help Wanted

October 27th, 2011
12:39 pm

Jason,
Are you sure you don’t pull for the “Rainbow Warriors?”

Old Gold

October 27th, 2011
12:46 pm

How about a coach?

g jacket

October 27th, 2011
12:51 pm

Quit sugar coating it! The best personel is not on the field for special teams. They have freshman that are not physically or mentally redy for the big time! 16 and 37 and others. Keep making excuses but it will not change. There have been no personel moves yet!

GT Joe

October 27th, 2011
1:20 pm

1st! (on the second page)

GIVE ME A BREAK

October 27th, 2011
1:29 pm

Thanks,Ken, for cleaning this up.