The Specialists

Special teams are important when you're 10-2 or when you're 2-10. Ole Miss, coming off the latter, will likely have to rely on some special teams moments to have a better chance to win some games this season.

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When looking at this year's team in that department, it starts with fifth-year placekicker Bryson Rose and fourth-year punter Tyler Campbell. Coach Tom Allen, special teams coordinator, sleeps a little better at night having those two veterans on his side.

"When you have guys like that, you want to maximize their talents," said Allen, who also coaches linebackers on Hugh Freeze's staff. "From a punting perspective, Tyler's an NFL guy. The way we're going to utilize his strengths, we think it's going to allow him to be at his very best."

Campbell has had a strong Rebel career his first three years. His average was its lowest last season at 43.6 yards per punt, but he also had the most punts in a season since arriving at 72. The previous staff also changed Campbell from a more conventional booming punter to a running, rugby-style punter. That affected him, and mostly not for the better.

Campbell, from Arkansas, didn't hesitate to let the new regime know how he wanted to get things done for the team this season.

"I told them I wanted to be more conventional," he said. "The rugby punt just altered my mechanics. It's just a totally different leg swing and a totally different punt. I just wanted to focus on one thing and get my fundamentals as sound as I can."

The coaches said fine with them.

"The big thing for (Campbell) is there will be times he's going to have to flip the field," Allen said. "There's going to be times he's going to have to pin ‘em down. I think he has the ability to do both. We'll play to his strengths. I know that field position in the punt game is critical.

Tyler Campbell
Bruce Newman

Campbell said he has also worked hard at keeping the ball outside the hash marks for a dangerous punt returner and has also worked on having an effective pooch punt.

"We want to see him have a great senior year," Allen said. "He wasn't 100 percent satisfied with the year he had last year after having a really strong sophomore season. He's worked really hard. I'm excited for him to have a great year."

As for Rose, who is 25 of 29 in the field goal department as a Rebel and 65 of 67 in point after touchdowns, Allen has basically the same sentiments as he does the ones concerning Campbell.

"I can say all the same things about him as far as work ethic and the kind of person that he is. The thing with Bryson is he's going to be kicking off as well for us, it looks like, which is going to help him for his future," Allen said.

Rose said he's worked this summer to improve in all facets of his game. He attributes the strength and conditioning program as already making a difference.

"With Coach (Paul) Jackson, our strength coach, we've had an awesome offseason," said the North Carolina native. "I want to focus on my form and swing easy on the ball. The main thing is to make good contact. I just want to focus on helping the team however I can."

There are some rule changes placekickers will have to deal with this season. Allen explains.

"They've moved the ball up to the 35 from the 30 (on kickoffs)," he said. "So that's changed the kickoffs and the return game. It's going to be interesting to see the rules changes. It may be the most significant rules changes we've had in college football in a long time. They moved the kickoff up to the 35 and the touchback up to the 25. They're doing everything they can to encourage you to down the ball. It's a player safety issue. I understand that.

"They also made it where you can't have more than a five-yard running start on the kickoff team," Allen continued. "We'll see how it goes. We'll have the philosophy to either kick it out of the end zone or kick it high and pin ‘em inside the five on the land point and see if they can get it out to the 25."

Allen also said the immediate future for Andrew Ritter is unclear as far as this season. But there's no doubt he will help the Rebels either now or down the road.

Bryson Rose
Bruce Newman

"Andrew Ritter has a big leg," he said of the Jackson native who has played three years already. "Coach (Freeze) hasn't been bashful about talking about redshirting him. He has a redshirt year, and we're still deciding on that one."

There's more from Allen as preseason practice gets underway.

"Will Denny's an excellent long snapper. Jeff Scott's the kind of the guy on punt returns that we're leaning on. We've got several younger guys, and we'll probably give six or eight guys a shot during fall camp (at returning the football).

"(Scott) emerged in spring as our leading candidate there. Obviously he'll be carrying the ball a lot on offense, so we've got to make sure we've got other guys there to do a great job.

"Tobias Singleton on kickoff returns had success last year. I'Tavius Mathers, another running back, will get a chance back there."

Allen said the word "special" definitely is in play when it comes to being a really good returner, one that knows there will likely be some hard hits coming his way at points throughout the season.

"Those guys have got to have courage," he said. "It takes a special guy."

Allen said his troops have put in the time and effort, and he believes they will have a positive effect on this team.

"As a group of specialty guys, we feel good," he said. "As I tell them, they've got to be at their best when it counts the most. That's what special teams is all about.

"Our ‘it' on special teams," Allen continued, "is to provide the winning edge."

This season, there will likely be times when they'll get that chance.

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