LSU 2001 Preview: Special Teams

Most of the 12,628 fans who attended the LSU Spring Game on April 28 were thrilled with the way it ended, as quarterback Rohan Davey threw a touchdown pass with no time remaining, leaving his Purple team down by one point, and LaBrandon Toefield ran in a 2-point conversion the Purple's 14-13 win. What many of the fans forgot was that Purple had the chance to win because the White team missed a measly extra point.

Josh Reed had scored for the White team on an 18-yard pass from Marcus Randall with 1:32 to play. Junior place-kicker John Corbello, who was also off the mark on field-goal attempts from 45 and 53 yards away, blew the extra-point attempt, keeping the White squad's lead at 13-6.

"If we could kick an extra point, the (Purple) team would have had to go for two just to tie it," Saban said.

Saban added that his specialists, Corbello and sophomore punter Donnie Jones, are capable of performing better than they did during spring practice.

In his sophomore season, Corbello spent nearly equal portions of his time drawing cheers from the LSU fans and making them remember the Tigers' painful kicking miseries of the 1990s.

It's worth noting that Corbello was 4-for-5 in last five field-goal attempts in 2000, and he also stepped up in some high-pressure situations. His field goals in the Peach Bowl came from 32 and 49 yards away — a career high for him. Corbello also had a shot for a game-winning field goal in the closing seconds against Tennessee. No one will know if his attempt was true, since Tad Golden blocked it.

Jones, meanwhile, battled inconsistency for most of last season. Against Kentucky, for instance, his four punts averaged 43 yards and resulted in two fumbles. He also had a record-tying 69-yard boot against UAB. On the other hand, his season average was a mere 38.1 yards, which was probably not what the Tigers had in mind when they gave the Baton Rouge Catholic product a scholarship in 1999.

Jones faced a battle with senior walk-on Ryan Miles to keep his job. Miles is most famous for his turn on the CBS game show "The Price is Right," on which he appeared wearing his Peach Bowl jersey. He won a home theater with a bid of $1.

Aside from one major slip-up — Tim Carter's 100-yard kickoff return that put Auburn ahead 27-17 last Sept. 16 — the Tigers' kick coverage teams were impressive. Career backups such as linebacker Walter Moreham, wide receiver LaVar Johnson and walk-on Ryan O'Neal took pride in their roles on special teams last season. Coupled with many youngsters who earned their stripes on such squads, the coverage teams should continue to help LSU win key field-position battles.

Regarding field position, one of the Tigers' goals last year was to gain more than 10 yards on punt returns. Domanick Davis, who handled those return duties, averaged 11. In addition to his duties as a tailback and defensive back, Davis will look to strengthen his reputation as one of the most dangerous return threats in the Southeastern Conference. He was third-best in the league during 2000 in both punt returns and kick-off returns. Jerel Myers, who averaged 20.2 yards on five kick-off returns last fall, remains the Tigers' second option.

 

IN 2000: Corbello had a shaky second year; Jones was hot and cold with the punting duties; coverage teams were typically solid; Davis and Myers were effective again as return men.

IN 2001: Corbello will need to be more consistent, as will Jones or Miles; veteran coverage teams should continue with solid work; Davis and Myers will likely resume their roles and effective return men.

ON THE SPOT: Jones. Again, it's all about consistency for the sophomore, who has booming punts on one drive and wounded ducks on the next. Punters are so often overlooked, but it's usually their work that determines an opponent's field position.

THE X-FACTOR: Miles. If he puts forth a consistent performance in August, Jones may come on down to No. 2 in the depth chart for punter. It may also open the door for Saban to look at more walk-ons for kicking duties.

LITTLE-KNOWN FACT: Davis is 590 yards away from breaking the LSU career record for kickoff return yardage. Robert Dow, who played for the Tigers from 1973-76, holds the mark with 1,780 yards.

PRE-SEASON GRADE: C+.

QUOTABLE: "The reason why we do what we do in the spring is to give the specialists an opportunity to get in a game-like situation and see how they execute. We didn't execute like I think we are capable of or like we need to in certain areas with our specialists. That is going to be important for us (this) year, in terms of our success." — Nick Saban


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