Editor's Note: This is Part XI of our series of position-by-position breakdowns by the football assistant coaches on spring training. Today, a look at the special teams.
After the evaluations of the 2005 season were done, Special Teams Coordinator Chris Rippon and Head Coach Ed Orgeron met and discussed a different approach for 2006.
"Coach O's directive to me for special teams was simple. He wanted us to be very aggressive in our approach. That means going after more punt blocks, having more fakes installed, having more variations in the return game. He said he wanted to make special teams more fun for the kids," Rippon began. "I agree with that direction wholeheartedly."
Rippon and Coach O have always seen eye-to-eye on the personnel philosophy of special teams play.
"It's a lot of fun having a head coach who believes in using the best personnel on the team on special teams units," he continued. "Of course, I like that. But since this is a spring special teams interview, I'd have to say our depth on special teams – in the spring – has been a little limited.
"We have good personnel for special teams, but when players like Patrick Willis, Jamarca Sanford and Mico McSwain are out with injuries, it takes three of our best special teams players out of the lineup and leaves us somewhat thin," he explained.
The goals spring, he felt, we mostly accomplished.
"We wanted to get the foundation of our packages and techniques of our packages installed and cemented in," Rip noted. "We had pretty good carryover from the season, but we still had work to do. I think we got most of that done. We also wanted to make sure we were getting the right people in the right spots. We think we identified the guys who can make it happen for us in most areas."
In the return game, Rippon hoped to expand the talent pool this spring. It was a bit shallow last year, he said.
"I think we have a bigger pool of fast players this year with Mico McSwain, Trumaine McBride, Marshay Green, Mike Wallace, Nate Banks and a couple of more," he explained. "We took a longer, more thorough look at all of our faster players and came up with some viable options.
"I like what Marshay brins to the table in the return game. He's got very quick feet and can cut quickly. He also wants the ball and is courageous in his approach. He's not the least bit worried about a high-speed collision, which is likely to happen in the return game. He'll stick it up in there for extra yards and hits holes without hesitation.
"We haven't made any final decisions on punt return or kickoff return, but we feel good about the candidates we have. Mico has experience in the kickoff return game and, as I said, we've got some speed to put back there."
Rippon said another positive of spring was the development of Punter Rob Park, who was kind of thrown into the frying pan last season and had some up and down results.
"Rob is right where we want him to be after throwing him in there a little prematurely last year. We knew he'd had some rough spots last year until he got completely comfortable. He got better as the season progressed and took that into spring training," Chris commented. "He had a very good spring with consistent 4-second hang time. He's getting the ball off quicker, he's stronger and he's more consistent than he was a year ago. We're happy with where Rob is now and expect him to continue improving. He's also a very good holder on placements, which is very important to the kicking operation."
At deep snapper, the Rebels are trying to replace three-year starter Sidney McLaurin. This spring, it appears as if OG Andrew Wicker will inherit the job with FB Seth Michaelson and walkon Brent Smith, a redshirt frosh, also competing for the spot.
"Andrew has been the most reliable to this point and has done a good job. He needs to fine-tune some things, but we feel he will do well," Rippon continued. "Seth needs to work on his consistency and so does Brent."
Senior Will Moseley will be one of the better kickoff men in the league. He was last year and will be this year too. But the $64,000 question remains who will kick field goals and extra points. For now, Moseley is in the lead with RS frosh Justin Sparks waiting in the wings as well as Matt Hinkle and Robert Bass, who were both used last season.
The spring was not what Rippon was hoping for.
"We are still battling consistency issues," Rip closed. "Moseley has the strongest leg on the team, but he has had moments of being sporadic. Sparks has progressed, but midway through spring, he hit a wall of inconsistency. We're anxious to see what our signee (Joshua Shene) can do. That position is still is still up for grabs and we are anxiously awaiting someone to grab it and run with it."
Our Take: Everything seems to be in order with special teams except the most glaring weakness from last year – placekicker. Return men? Check. Blockers? Check. Cover men? Check. Gunners? Check. Protection? Check. Snappers? Check. Holder? Check. Aggressive approach? Check. . . . Placekicker? Not checked – yet.
Special Teams breakdown
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