Special teams committed to excellence

Special Teams Coordinator Chris Rippon didn't get to spend the time he had hoped for in spring drills with the specialists due to all players learning new offensive and defensive systems, but the Rebels got enough work done in that area to develop a foundation and identify the right personnel in most areas. Another plus is that Coach Ed Orgeron is a firm believer in strong special teams, having been a special teams coordinator himself.

Due to every player on the Rebel football team having to learn new offensive and defensive systems, the special teams probably have not gotten as much practice time as Coach Ed Orgeron would have preferred, but they have done enough for Special Teams Coordinator Chris Rippon to make some general statements about that phase of the team.

"We see the big picture right now. We are clay right now – we need molding, but we have the players to be not only efficient, but dynamic in most phases of special teams," Rippon began. "We are still finalizing who belongs where, but the big picture is very good and very promising.

"Coach Orgeron and I are on the same page in terms of commitment to special teams. The best players will play on special teams. Coach O is very involved and very supportive. He couldn't be better for special teams. We are going to have the time we need, the personnel we need and the schemes we need to fit our personnel and to be successful. It is a very positive situation, staff-wise, on special teams. Coach Orgeron is a believer in its importance and I certainly am."

In the return game, the Rebs haven't done a lot of live work, but Rippon knows the candidates are there to be competent, if not very good.

"When you watch Mike Espy and Larry Kendrick on film, and the way a Mico McSwain moves around, among others, we know we have the candidates we need. That part of it is easy, but we need to work on some fundamentals," Rippon stated. "For instance, on kickoff returns, it appears they have a tendency to retreat on the catching of the kick. When you do that, the weight goes back and you have to restart your takeoff. We want them going forward when they catch the ball – already beginning to run. Things like that are little things we will work on and get perfected.

"It's really hard to tell where we stand in the return game until you fire live bullets at them, but we'll know before the season starts. We have to find out who doesn't mind running into 10 missiles coming at them with the intent of taking your head off. We feel we have great potential there, but who will answer the bell? We'll find out."

In the kicking game, Rippon gave a detailed analysis.

"Our deep snapper – Sidney McLaurin – is very good. Right now, he's the best thing about our operation. From a placekicking standpoint, Hunter Bray has been around here and has done a solid job, but he has not been as consistent as I was expecting," Chris continued. "Will Moseley has been the most consistent in the placekicking department. Moseley – right now – is a little ahead in placements and in kicking off. Matt Hinkle has done a great job holding on placements."

In punting, just the fact that punts have not been blocked is encouraging to Rippon from that perspective.

"We don't have a true punter on campus and it says something positive about our punt operation that we haven't had any punts blocked. That's a big deal and a good sign for the guys who are charged with protecting," he continued. "We have actually gotten the ball off in less than two seconds, which is excellent. And the guys who are punting – Bray and Moseley – have averaged about 35 yards a punt.

"We are still conducting walkon tryouts and we are anxious about the signees – Justin Sparks and Rob Park – we picked up in the recruiting season. My biggest concern right now is the punter. Who will be the guy?"

Rippon loves the physical part of special teams. So we asked him bluntly, "who will be your downfield headhunters in coverage?"

"I think there are a couple of kids on this squad who have that special mentality. The one who comes to mind immediately is Jamarca Sanford. He's a little bit of a rattlesnake who has the ability to make big plays and he doesn't hold back. He's the kind of player who will not hesitate for fear of being wrong. He goes after it. If he's wrong, then he expects to get fussed at, but you won't ever have to fuss at him for being scared to try to make a play for fear of being yelled at," Rippon explained. "Garry Pack has shown a flare for that too.

"But there are a lot of kids out there who will be good. We need two or three who are a little nasty and love to play. That's what special teams are all about. If you liked ‘kill the guy with the ball' in fifth grade, you will be a candidate. I feel we have a few of them."

In terms of anyone surfacing with the knack for blocking kicks, Rippon said Nate Banks comes to mind.

"Nate is quick off the ball and seems to take good angles. We have not worked on that a lot, but we think we'll see some ‘thump-thump' – the greatest sound for a special teams coach – in the fall," Rippon closed.

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