Batoon Aims For ‘Better’

When Linebackers Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Tom Allen took the post as defensive coordinator at South Florida, Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze weighed all his options and turned to his comfort zone – Corey Batoon, who had been on his staff since 2011 at Arkansas State.

“Corey has been an important part of our staff since I was at A-State – he was our secondary coach and special teams coordinator there – and I know his value to us,” said Freeze. “He is the right fit for us and I trust him not only with our safeties but with our special teams.”

Batoon has no doubt in his mind he can handle the load.

“I was the special teams coordinator at Northern Arizona for two year before I was the DC there for 11 years,” noted Batoon. “I was also the special teams coordinator at Central Missouri State for two years after that.

“Just about everyone runs the same stuff on special teams from a scheme standpoint, from Division III all the way to the SEC. The only differences are tweaking things to fit your personnel within the schemes.”

And while special teams coordinator holds an important title, Corey says it’s anything but a one-man show.

“Special teams are a joint effort. It’s all hands on deck,” he explained. “Everyone on the staff has a role, everyone helps. I think that approach is good for a team. Offensive coaches get to work with defensive players and defensive coaches get to work with offensive players. It helps every player and every coach to get their hands on, so to speak, every player and every player get exposed to different coaches.

“That brings about a lot of out-of-the-box thinking and ideas. The input from everyone makes special teams truly a team effort.”

Batoon is a fan of the job Allen did at Ole Miss, but he believes things will get better on special teams, not because of him but because of improved personnel.

“If you have the right specialists, which I think we do, it’s a matter of building depth on your squad and utilizing that depth in different ways. Considering the lack of depth Tom had to deal with in terms of coverage and return-type athletes, I think he did a terrific job, but I believe we have built even more depth and we should be even better on special teams overall.”

In analyzing the different special teams units, Batoon – in general – believes he has a solid base of kickers/punters, the coverage teams have been “very good” and the return game needs improvement.

“(Punter) Will Gleeson did a great job for us last year in his first year,” Batoon continued. “He really stepped up, especially in the area of placing the ball inside the 20 and keeping offenses penned down. I don’t think he and the punt team get enough credit for how much they helped our defense with field position, something we lacked two years ago.

“The way he moved the launch point and moved the pocket with his versatility was excellent. T.A (Allen) did a fantastic job locating Will and having the connections to be able to land an Australian punter. Will is a home run, in my opinion, and he has three more years here. From a specialists standpoint, he took the punt team to another level.”

Batoon also graded the kickoff coverage team highly as the year progressed.

“(Freshman) Gary Wunderlich is an extremely talented kicker, but we were asking him to do too much early on. He ended up, around mid-year, tweaking a hamstring and we had to back off with what we were asking him to do. Kicking off is a violent movement and when Gary was doing placements, punting and kicking off, he overdid it and got injured,” Batoon noted.

“As he matures and gets stronger, he will be able to handle more, but we were best when Gary was handling field goals and PATs, Will was doing most of the punting and Nathan Noble was kicking off. Nathan struggled a little early in the year and lost the job to Gary, but when Gary got injured and Nathan got another chance, he capitalized. Certainly, all three of those guys need to continue to build on their games, but for three guys who had never done it before on this level, I thought they responded extremely well and will only get better. You can see why I’m excited about our kickers and punters moving forward.”

As always, the pool of players around those kickers and punters is paramount to success.

“I feel we are getting more run-and-hit guys on our roster each year. Last year, we had guys like the Moore twins and DeMarquis Gates and a few others that contributed and cut their teeth on special teams,” Batoon explained. “This year I believe we will be adding even more guys who can contribute, like Armani Linton, Montrell Custis, Cameron Ordway, Tony Bridges, Demore’ea Stringfellow, Victor Evans, Tee Shepard, Sammie Epps, DeMarkus Lodge and Terry Caldwell, for example, come to mind quickly.

“I consider them to be run-and-hit type athletes and that’s what’s needed on special teams”

From a return standpoint, Batoon not only is aiming for improvement, he’s expecting it.

“Our punt return efforts took two major blows last year when Carlos Davis hurt his knee in August. He was our guy – no question about it. Then, Anthony Alford decided to leave right before the Alabama game and we were left with a freshman, Markell Pack, to field punts,” Batoon noted. “That’s a scary proposition for us and for Markell. Putting a true freshman in that position is tough.

“The first few games he struggled with nerves and I think that affected his decision-making at times. As the season progressed, we saw him gain some confidence and at the end of the year he was pretty consistent. I saw his confidence go way up when he had hat nice return in the Egg Bowl when he stiff-armed two MSU defenders. We are anticipating getting Carlos back in spring and then in August we will add Jalen Julius to the fold. It will be healthy for us to have more than one guy back there capable of fielding punts. Again, it’s a matter of expanding our pool of candidates and letting them compete for the job.”

Jaylen Walton has been consistent in kickoff returns and Batoon expects him to handle things back there again, but he wants more viable options.

“Jaylen’s experience back deep is invaluable, but how much he’s back there will be determined by how much work he’s getting at running back. If we are spreading the ball around in the backfield like we have been, he will be the kickoff return man, but we need to expand our pool of return guys in both punts and kickoffs,” Batoon added.

Putting everything together is exciting to Corey.

“I can’t want to get started. We have built our pool of special teams-type athletes a little each year. We are always looking for guys who can run and like to mix it up and I think we are on the verge of having enough of those kinds of athletes to be really effective on special teams,” he closed.

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