Q&A With ASU Special Teams Coach Tom Osborne

One of the glaring ASU deficiencies revealed in the loss to Stanford was the performance of the special teams. Actually, this unit was also far below average in the season opener against SDSU. In this interview, Special Teams Coach Tom Osborne addresses the problems with his unit, and offers his solutions.

DevilsDigest: Coach, after watching game tape and digesting what transpired against Stanford, what in specific jumped at you from the game film?

Tom Osborne: Coverage was horrible. That's no secret. We gave up way too many big plays, and we can't continue to do that. Especially not on special teams, where you have a limited number of plays each game. It's not like we have three downs to get something done. We have just one chance, and that's it. We didn't have that many breakdowns, but the few that we had were huge and hurt our team.

DD: Did the forced bye week hurt the performance of the special teams? Did you see any disturbing signs in practice?

TO: No I haven't seen any negative signs in practice last week. However, and I have been saying this all along, you need game action on special teams. There's just so much you can do in practice. You can never simulate the pressure situation of a game in practice. We need to play games. I know that's learning the hard way, but that's the only way you can improve.

DD: Are the problems on special teams attributed to coaching or execution?

TO: Some are guys are just not giving a good effort and not making plays, and some are giving a great effort, but are just not executing. The later group mostly consists of first year players. They have a huge learning curve, just like they do on offense and defense. Those players need to play in more games, and get experience. As long as those young players are playing hard, and they are, I'll stick with them. But make no mistake about it; there were also veteran players who didn't do their job as well. On the other hand, I need to do a better job teaching and coaching those young players, so we flatten the learning curve. A lot of the mistakes weren't because of lack of effort, but rather carrying out assignments. We have a proven scheme that helped Oregon not only be the best special teams unit in the Pac-10, but in the whole country. If the players continue to work hard, and learn how to execute the schemes, we'll be fine.

DD: How have the special teams players taken all the criticism off their performance?

TO: When we watched game film, I showed the players two kick-off returns where if one or two plays were completed correctly, both kick-offs go for touchdowns. When they realize that, they understand how important it is to carry out your assignments. No one wants to be singled out for mistakes, but everyone wants to be singled out for making plays. I think the players are taking the criticism well, and they have the desire to be better. If I didn't see that desire, I would be discouraged about the future. But I know we have the talent and the effort, now we just need to make sure we teach them well and they go and execute what we teach them.

DD: Can we expect any personnel changes as far as the kick-off and punt returners?

TO: Taplin stays as our punt returner. He's the most consistent catching the ball. As long as you can catch the ball, you have the job. Hec, if (center) Scott Peters does a good job catching the ball, I'll put him as a punt returner. On kick-off returns, we'll still have the rotation of Pace, M. Williams, and Flowers. Lightfoot really benefited from the bye week, because he got a lot of work as a return man. I can see him getting some playing time as both a kick returner and punt returner in our next few games."

DD: What's your outlook for the special teams unit? Are you worried about their performance?

TO: We can't push the panic button yet. It's way too early in the season to do that. The players know what they have to do, and the coaches know what they have to do. Now it's just a mater of proper coaching and players executing the scheme. If we do all that, everything else we'll take care of itself. We all saw our second team players do a good job on special teams. That was very encouraging. Another bright spot was that we punted for six times, but they (Stanford) only returned it once. But, no one will talk about the fact that our opponent returned one of six punts, but they'll talk about the fact that their only punt return against us went for 51 yards, and now suddenly we're labeled as a bad punt coverage team. I've been coaching for a long time. I'm just used to this criticism. I'm confident in my abilities, and I'm confident in the group we have.

Sun Devil Source Top Stories