With all the kickers, punters, snappers, holders and main return guys coming back from a successful campaign last year, you'd think special teams production is a given for 2007.
In those areas, that's probably true – if experience and improvement based on continued effort holds true.
But that's not all there is to special teams.
There are protection packages, coverage packages, punt block packages and return packages to consider. All those areas require the right personnel – players capable of handling those duties without fail.
The Rebels lost some good special teams players last year. B. Brown, Patrick Willis, Rory Johnson, Keith Houston, Trumaine McBride – off the top of our pointed heads – quickly come to mind.
Who will replace them? It is a critical factor in continued special teams productivity.
Special Teams Coordinator Chris Rippon saw some candidates emerge in spring training.
"Coming back, we have guys like Bruce Hall, Hiram White, Dustin Mouzon, Cordera Eason, Terrell Jackson, Cassius Vaughn, Robert Hough, Jamarca Sanford, Nate Banks, etc.," said Rip. "That's a pretty good nucleus, but we have blanks to fill in."
Some "newcomers" who caught his eye as potential special teamers are LB Ashlee Palmer, LB Allen Walker, LB Jamie Phillips, LB Jonathan Cornell, FS Kendrick Lewis, LB Antonio Turner, TE David Traxler and WR Shay Hodge.
"We are looking for that guy who is fast enough to cover and big enough to take on blocks and protect. Those are some guys who I have in mind, but everyone is a candidate," Rippon noted. "Coach Orgeron believes in special teams and wants the best of the best out there, but we have work to do in identifying what our needs are and who can handle the requirements of each position."
As we stated, the "visible" parts of special teams are returning.
At PK, sophomore Josh Shene has, according to Rippon, had a "very good spring."
"Josh has improved his leg strength some and has done very well this spring in field goals and PATs," Chris said. "He has addressed some fundamental issues he felt he needed to work on after evaluating last season, such as keeping his head down through impact, and it's helped him. Josh gained maturity last year and is self-motivated. He has not let last year's success go to his head. I would like to see him do a little better job on kickoff duties – that's a huge concern to us after losing Will Moseley and the kickoff being moved back to the 30-yard line – but I think Josh will come around there because he will work at it."
At punter, junior Rob Park needs to keep striving to get more consistent, according to Rippon.
"Rob has not had a great spring, but part of that is that we are rebuilding the protection unit. He has gotten better at adjusting to snaps that aren't perfect, but he's expecting more consistency from himself and so are we," Chris noted. "He's working hard and I think he will come through, but I was hoping to see him take that next step this spring. We need him to start flipping the field more. I think he will. He's a junior now and has punted for two years for us – it's time to move to the next level and he's dedicated to do that. Rob continues to be a terrific holder for Josh and is very conscientious about that."
Sophomore Justin Sparks is in the mix for placements, punting and KO, but inconsistency has been his Achilles heel this spring.
"Justin has shown glimpses of excellence but he continues to be plagued with consistency issues. I was hoping he would get more consistent this spring, and he has a little, but we need more. He will work to get there and show what he can really do. We know the ability is there," Rippon attested.
In the return game, Marshay Green has been outstanding in the spring.
"Man, Marshay has had punt returns for TDs, kickoff returns for TDs. He can be dynamic. With him and Dexter (McCluster), and Cassius Vaughn and Mike Wallace, who has a lot of speed, our return game should be in good hands. Now that Marshay and Dexter have gone through a season, and know how it feels, they could light things up next year," Rippon closed.
Preston Powers, who handled the deep snapping chores last season in his freshman campaign, and Wesley Phillips, a redshirt freshman, continue to battle for the snapping rights.
Special Teams Overview: We have faith the Rebel coaches will find the right fits for the protection and coverage portions of special teams. With Green, McCluster, Shene and Park returning, there's no reason not to expect success in all kicking/return areas. . . . In the Red-Blue Game, there were limited special teams' reps. Hard to get a gauge on that aspect of the team, but Rip's comments and past success leads one to be optimistic about the specialists on the team.
Spring Review, Part VI
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