Cooke Competing For Punting, Kickoff Duties

Logan Cooke does not want to spoil the build-up. Just know that in the video being assembled to show Mississippi State specialists doing, well, special stuff, he does play a part. “But I won’t ruin it!”

Cooke

No, we’ll all have to await formal release to see all their specialized stunts, from creative snaps to gimmick kicks and other tricks in-between. It’s a good way for Mississippi State snappers and kickers to not only have a little preseason fun, but show their varied skills.

Oh, and maybe to strengthen their individual bids for regular-season jobs, too?

Maybe not. It’s doubtful Coach Dan Mullen will select his specialists on a video. There will be more than enough training camp opportunities for everyone who wants to boot the football to state their own case. We could add to snap it, too, though sure-handed senior Winston Chapman ought have a good (no pun intended) grip on that situation.

How good, Chapman gets to show with the gimmick snaps that emphasize accuracy in ways which won’t come into real play. Though “If they’re hitting a bottle on somebody’s head…” Cooke suggested, leaving the obvious un-said, that punters and holders ought be confident the ball will be delivered on target and on time.

For his part, sophomore Cooke is contending for two of the three kicking tasks. Those would be punting, and kicking off. As a 2014 freshman Cooke did hit ten punts and averaged 41.4 yards in the process. That was behind Devon Bell’s 43.2 rate on 50 punts. But in spring and now in preseason the competition has been tighter and nobody can predict who Mullen and Coach Greg Knox will send out for the first punt. Or the second, and so on pending the situations.

Along that line, the nod could well go to which Dog masters the current trend in college punting: the Aussie kick. Cooke has been practicing it enough to like the idea. A lot.

“It’s great, it’s awesome. It’s a fun deal if you can master it, but it seems to be going good, too.” It will not be a full-time tactic, Cooke cautioned. Based on practices, State won’t try the roll-out punt style unless the ball is at or near enough mid-field. When needing to boom a ball away, the classic kick will be called.

“Mainly we use it when we’re trying to pin them deep,” Cooke said. “But inside (the 50 yard line) it’s deadly.

As for kicking off, now, Cooke came away with many more boots than Bell last year, 54 to 29. That many more opportunities, and matchups for a coaching staff that would rather cover a kickoff than spot the other team some free yards, meant a lower average again. But Cooke’s kicks offer more potential for dropping the return man inside a 20-yard line, the 15- maybe, and sometimes even the 10-.

Regardless, this contest will play out over the next three weeks. Or into the season too based on Mullen’s history. What Cooke is not contending for now is placekicker. He did take one such swing last season, missing at Kentucky. The job has been re-opened by the early departure of Evan Sobiesk, though.

“For the most part field goal opportunity is between Bryce Brown, Devon, and Westin Graves,” said Cooke. “But punting just seems to be just me and Devon right now. No one else has come in. And kickoffs is pretty open. But it’s fun competition.”

Fun in an intense way of course. Wednesday was just the third day of preseason work, the first in full pads. Yet an unusual number of practice periods were invested in kicking. As well as fielding, covering, and protecting. As camp continues the placekicking will pick up pace as well.

It’s no secret, Mullen wants more out of kicking teams this year. In 2014 punting was superb on the whole, kickoffs and coverage the same, and the return games…not good. Not at all. If not for a fluke return by Christian Holmes of a Kentucky on-sides kickoff, there wouldn’t have been a point scored all year on a runback. For that matter 2013 wasn’t much better on the return angle.

And yes, placekicking continues to be a huge question. It is one of the great under-told stories of 2014 that lack of reliable field goaling never bit the Bulldogs all year. But that’s luck Mullen mustn’t push in ’15, or so goes conventional thinking.

Maybe this explains how heavy kicking plays are getting hit so far in camp? “It’s a big part of the game,” Cooke said. “I mean you look at the way Coach Knox does his special teams meetings, he gets us fired-up. Because we’re a big part of the game, not just kicker or punter or long snapper but the whole aspect of it.”

”I’ve worked all off-season on consistency. There’s some small, tweaking things I still have to do. But for the most part I’m coming back strong and I’m trying to get in there, somewhere.”

Cooke does know he’s involved in the video feature, at least. “It’s fun, it’s a group deal. That will be fun to watch.” But he still won’t give away many cues or clues, so we’ll all have to watch for the fun.


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