Elston Pleased With Special Teams

The Bearcats work daily on their special teams, and that time seemed especially well spent last week as Jake Rogers was named the BIG EAST Conference Special Teams Player of the Week. Coach Elston spoke with Bearcat Insider about special team play after Monday's practice.

Bearcat Insider sat down with Cincinnati special team coordinator Mike Elston after Monday's practice.  He was happy with the progress made in the kicking game after the first week.  "I was absolutely very pleased with the progress we made from week 1 to week 2, but there's still a long way to go with the little things.  This week we need to make progress with those, but we were very happy with the progress of Jake Rogers' ability to mature and put the ball through the uprights better."  Not surprising after his 55 yard field goal, Rogers was named BIG EAST Conference Special Teams Player of the Week on Monday.


The Bearcats have two potentially excellent placekickers in Jake Rogers and Brandon Yingling, and Monday's practice saw each get a chance to improve on his consistency.  Coach Elston talked about their practice performances.  "They were not as consistent today as we'd like for them to be, but you're going to have that with their youth and lack of experience.  But they are striking the ball considerably better than the previous couple weeks and even back in two-a-day camps.  Still, we have to get more consistent at that spot."


The Bearcat punter, Kevin Huber, had a 44 yard average against Oregon State, and Coach Elston feels good about the progress of the walk-on who was awarded a scholarship this year along his long snapper.  "We're very pleased with Kevin Huber's and Mike Windt's consistency.  Kevin is a weapon for us.  He can pin them deep and strike ‘em where we want ‘em.  He can also pooch ‘em.  He's had one bad kick and that was mainly due to a protection breakdown last week.  He's been very consistent."


Cincinnati's special teams scored a touchdown on a blocked punt and also gave the Bearcat offense the ball inside the five-yard-line after recovering a fumble on a muffed punt.  Elston said the Bearcats will continue to put pressure on opponents by utilizing their speed.  "Teams that break us down will see we're pretty aggressive with our punt return unit.  If we don't make a big play with the block, we'll make a big play with the return.  We've got Marty (Gilyard) going back to return punts, and we have Haruki (Nakamura) back there.  We just need to make better decisions when we're fielding the ball.  We were not very happy with a couple decisions to field the ball in traffic instead of fair catching it last week."


Nakamura may not be classified as a "burner," but the Bearcat staff feels he brings other assets to the punt returner's role.  "Our goal is not necessarily to score a touchdown every time we get our hands on the ball back there.  That would be nice, but that doesn't realistically happen.  Our goal is to get a first down every time we field the ball.  We want to get ten yards on the return because that's one less first down our offense needs to get.  A guy like Haruki, who is sure handed and can make a guy miss, can get the ten yards and is valuable to us.  If he gets more yardage, that's a bonus, but we don't scheme to get a touchdown on every return."


During Coach Minter's decade as the Bearcat head coach, Cincinnati attempted one fake kick.  Some coaches feel that kind of conservative philosophy only causes opponents to bring more pressure to the punter because they know they won't get hurt by a fake.  Coach Elston's philosophy is to be aggressive.  "With our punt scheme over the last few weeks, we've given four or five different looks, and we'll have another four or five coming this week.  If teams are aggressive, we have fakes for them.  We'll go into a game with three or four punt fakes just to capitalize on what a team will give us.  We have plenty of fakes if someone decides to coma after our punts, but I don't know if many teams will because of what we do with the scheme."


Kevin Huber, the Bearcat punter, doubles as the holder on placekicks.  It would seem a back-up quarterback as the holder would give the unit more versatility.  Coach Elston explained the philosophy of using Huber.  "The reasoning behind that is the quarterbacks are working a lot of drills in practice.  They don't have the time to practice being the holder.  The punter is outside working with the specialists all day long, and because of that, he's able to put the ball where the kicker wants it.  That's what Kevin has done, and he's as good as it gets when it comes to holding.  He's also every bit as athletic as most of our quarterbacks, and he has a good arm.  Those guys (long snapper, punter and kicker) are able to work together more and get the timing down.  The quarterbacks don't have the same kind of time in practice to do that."


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