The Winning Edge?

Despite a glitch or two in punt return, Special Teams Coordinator Tom Allen sounds comfortable with the way things are going on the special teams and he believes solid ST play could be the difference in winning and losing against LSU Saturday night.

"When you watch the highlights of the Ole Miss-LSU games of the past, there always seems to be a special teams play in there that is pivotal," said Allen.

Certainly 2013 was a prime example of that when PK Andrew Ritter nailed a 41-yard field goal with two seconds on the clock as the Rebels knocked off the sixth-ranked Tigers 27-24.

"We all know about the famous punt return in 1959 by Billy Cannon," he noted. "That lives to this day in their minds. On Tuesday morning in our special teams meeting, it was a pretty emotional meeting.

"Coach Freeze challenges us to provide the winning edge. We've done that a few times this year and we will need to do it again in this type of environment. We will be ready."

Allen, naturally, has been pleased with freshman Punter Will Gleeson so far.

"He's been super," said Allen. "When you take a guy like him from far off, you never really know what you are getting. We were confident he had the ability - he came with high recommendations from the guys I know at Pro Kicker Australia, but you never know how he will adjust to being here and how he will adjust to the game of football.

"I think it was very important to be able to redshirt Will - let him get used to America, school and our brand of football. We knew he had a good leg and could do different things from other guys, but he needed to get comfortable."

Will's biggest challenge, according to Allen, on the field was getting situated "in the pocket."

"He had always kicked on the run in Australian Rules Football, so getting him to settle in with guys flying around him for those sky kicks took some adjustment," Tom explained. "We banged him around a little last year, but once he figured it all out, we felt good about him.

"So far, he has handled everything very well and I am really proud of him."

Gleeson appears unusually calm, no matter the situation and no matter how many eyes are on him.

"He's very steady. Will is the same every day, which is what you need in a kicker. He has a great demeanor for the job," said Allen. "He's very focused on the details and techniques of being a punter. He knows what he does when he doesn't hit it the right way - whether it's his drop or footwork or placement of his feet. He can figure it out.

"You want conscientious guys who take care of the little things."

Another freshman, Gary Wunderlich, has taken over the "rest" of the kicking chores - field goals, kicking off and PATs. Gary seemed more comfortable against Tennessee than previous outings.

"It's about experience. We've always felt he could handle it, but when you are a true freshman used to kicking in high school stadiums and then you kick in front of 100,000 or full houses, it takes time to get used to that," Allen assessed. "Gary is very versatile. Not many guys can do all three kicking chores.

"The more he kicks, and the more comfortable he gets, the better he will be. He has a very bright future."

Yet another true freshman - the Rebs are leaning on frosh in special teams heavily - is Punt Returner Markell Pack.

"Same thing with him as it is with Gary - he's a freshman. Returning punts is the most difficult thing to do on the field, in my opinion, but Markell is doing a fine job catching the ball. He's very natural catching the ball - the most natural we have," stated Tom. "Now, it's a matter of him making good decisions. The other night against UT, he was standing on the 17 and the ball was kicked from their 42. The Tennessee punter hit a great punt that just kept drifting.

"Markell should have let it go, but when you are drifting back and people are bearing down on you and you are concentrating on catching the ball, that's a tough call in the heat of the moment. He felt he had only drifted back three or four yards when in reality he had drifted back more than ten. An experienced guy would probably not have made that mistake, and he won't make it again, but you have to learn by being in the fire. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the luxury of learning in spring ball. Due to the injury to Carlos Davis, he has had to learn under fire."

After making a better decision here and there, a learned thing, the next step for Pack is making something happen with the ball after the catch.

"He's got some explosion after the catch, but I have to say this - we have faced some awfully good punter. The hang times we have seen have been tremendous," said Tom. "The game has changed with these shield protections. Now, cover guys on the line of scrimmage release quicker after the snap and it's hard to hold them off.

"When you mix that in with the hang times we are seeing, it is very difficult to get a returnable punt. Very few have been returnable and that works both ways - very few of our punts from Will have been returnable as well. We'll get better with that."

Allen is also the linebackers coach, so while we had a shot at him. . .

. . . how does his group match up with LSU's downhill, power running attack.

"I think Serderius Bryant, D.T. Shackelford and Christian Russell are best-suited for this kind of game, but in the past couple of years, Denzel Nkemdiche and Kieth Lewis have also played well against LSU," he said. "Temario Strong has also gotten more reps this week at MLB. This suits him.

"We are not a big linebacker corps, but we have tough kids and that's what you have to have against that type of attack. Our linebackers can play downhill too."

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