Quick Hits with Coach Blackwell

Coach Blackwell talks about his linebackers, as well as his role in the vastly improved special teams at Clemson in this interview.

Nick Watkins got more snaps than Anthony Waters last Saturday against Utah State. Is that a trend that we'll see the rest of the season?
Blackwell: No, I'm just trying to even up the reps a little. You know, I don't really keep up with snap counts during the game, so no. I just try to keep those guys rolling in and out of the game. I wasn't going into the game saying that Nick was going to play more even though that's the style of game Nick will excel at. He's really good in coverage and in space and things like that, and that's the type of game where he can make some plays.

So you view Waters as a more physical type of linebacker than Watkins?
Blackwell: Yeah, downhill, and he plays more in the box. He does a good job in the open field though. He made a couple of plays against Florida State in the open field. Didn't really plan to do that, it just kind of worked that way.

You are in charge of the punt block team, and you guys have three blocks this year in just six games. Why have you been so successful?
Blackwell: The three blocks we have right now were by really good players. Chansi Stuckey, C.J. Gaddis, Gaines Adams. One of the things that we looked at were using good players. It starts with our head coach who made it a big emphasis in the offseason. You look at our special teams, and there are starters all over it. Some people don't believe in doing that. Justin Miller has done good job as a returner. Stuckey has been on a lot of special teams. Justin has had a couple of nice punt returns also. You look at guys like Yusef Kelly, Reggie Merriweather, Tye Hill, C.J. Gaddis, and Stuckey, they all do a great job week in a week out. It's all on those guys. I'd love to say that I just scheme everybody up, but we've got guys that make plays. Good players make good plays. We are fortunate that we have a head coach that lets you use good players on special teams.

Did you study any team in particular this offseason in developing your scheme?
Blackwell: Yes and no. From being in the Big East, Virginia Tech is always a team that blocks a lot of punts, so you look at what they do. But it's hard to copy what people do on punt return because each week somebody blocks a little different. Like last week against Virginia, it was an usual formation that was really really tight. Florida State was spread out, so it changes week to week and it's hard to copy what someone else is doing. You have to change week to week and our players have done a nice job of adjusting to that and Coach Bowden has given us an awful lot of time to work on it, which obviously helps.

Do you think teams don't put their starters out there on special teams to avoid potential injuries?
Blackwell: Well that, and there's a mindset that people are going to put their good players on kick off coverage and punt (coverage). Because if you give up a blocked punt its going to change a football game. If you give up a kickoff return for a touchdown it's going to change a football game. A lot of people will say if you are going to put a young guy in there, then you put him on punt block and kickoff return because all you want to do is protect the football and get some yardage. He's not going to lose a game for you. Coach Bowden takes the attitude that it's not going to lose a game for you, but it may win a game for you.

Do you have more starters on special teams right now than you have had in the past?
Blackwell: On certain ones, yes. We are using more starters on punt return team. We are probably using more than we've ever used. We are using our top of the line players on that team. But more than anything, the players are just doing a nice job and they've bought into what we are doing.

Do you find guys really want to be on these teams now that you've had success?
Blackwell: Yeah, that's when you they are buying into what you are doing on all special teams. The one's that people don't want to be on are the ones with no glory. Everybody wants to return, but nobody wants to block or cover. You've got guys like Leroy Hill, who wants to be on all of them. Or Eric Sampson, he says, 'coach, I'll go do it.' Or Duane Coleman comes to me all the time. They are seeing what's happening and want to be a part of it, and they know how important it is. Again, when your head football coach puts that much emphasis on it, they are going to buy into it. I'd love to say they are buying into me, but Coach Hines is in charge of the punt team, Burton Burns coaches kick off return team, I coach kick off coverage and punt block. So there's a lot of different people in there.

Did you work with punt block/return team while you were at Pitt?
Blackwell: No, we had one guy handle special teams at Pittsburgh. My whole career though, I've always helped with special teams because you don't want to just stand there and watch. You'll always have your players on there. It's always a joint effort on the field. I'll get over there and help the scout team when we are going against kickoff return. I'll go over there and tell Courtney Vincent to go over there and blow somebody up and get Coach Burns mad (laughing). It's either that or stand on the sidelines, and I'm not real good at that because I stand over there and get bored.

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