The Rebel Special Teams took a giant leap forward in 2006 compared to the 2005 season.
One of the biggest changes was the production of freshman Placekicker Josh Shene, who had a very good first year.
Another plus was the return game with freshmen Marshay Green and Dexter McCluster, before his injury midway through the year, and sophomore Mike Wallace. All showed the ability to take it to the house at any time. (Wallace returned a kickoff all the way in the Meet The Rebels scrimmage last Saturday).
All those players return this year and should be a year wiser and better.
Throw in Holder Rob Park, who is superb at that task, and Deep Snapper Preston Powers, who did a very nice job as a rookie a year ago, and most of the critical spots have returning, proven players.
The question marks right now are who will punt and who will kickoff?
Park returns as a two-year starter at punter and he finished last year on a strong note against MSU in the Egg Bowl, where he kept the Bulldogs penned down deep in their territory most of the game.
But obviously the coaches are looking for him to improve or someone else to take over the punting duties. Consequently, Bryan Powers was signed out of a Cally JUCO and Justin Sparks, who backed up Shene at PK last year, has been working more and more at punting.
In the battle to kick off, the winner of the competition will have to fill the shoes of Will Mosley, who had an extremely strong leg. Right now, Shene is number one.
The kickoff scenario got more critical with the new rule of having to kickoff from the 30-yard line versus last year's 35.
What will come down in those two cases? Nobody knows yet, but Park is a proven punter who has only had one punt blocked in the last two seasons due to his quick times of getting the kick off. He's sure-handed and is one of the best pooch punters at Ole Miss in years. If he has a solid next two weeks and flips the field a couple of times, we look for the veteran to be in the lineup on opening day.
But Sparks has recently pleased with coaches with a strong leg and the ability to win the field position battle. Ditto on Powers. Both need to work on their consistency, but both have put bugs in the coaches' ears with their fall camp.
Shene - from what little we have seen - is kicking off to roughly the 5-yard line with good hang time. He appears to be the best option we have at this time.
Whatever comes down in those undecided cases, it looks good the Rebs will have a good competency level in all specialty areas of special teams.
On coverage/protection/rush teams, the same names appear to be popping up over and over in preseason practices.
Here are most of them making their marks: Marshay Green, LaDerrick Vaughn, Jamarca Sanford, Jonathan Cornell, Robert Hough, Allen Walker, Kendrick Lewis, Terrell Jackson, Cassius Vaughn, Dustin Mouzon, Cordera Eason, Bruce Hall, Jason Cook, Mike Hicks, Reggie Hicks, Jamie Phillips, Andy HArtmann, Mike Wallace, Ashlee Palmer, Greg Hardy, Markeith Summers, David Traxler, Michael Oher, Maurice Miller, John Jerry, Marcus Cohen and Marcus Tillman are all penciled in to either cover or protect this year.
As you can readily see, some of the better athletes on the team are included, with the calling card being speed and some size mixed in.
Coach Ed Orgeron takes special teams play seriously - very seriously. The best speed players, with some size sprinkled in, play special teams on his squads.
"We consider special teams players starters. They may not be starters on offense or defense, but they are starters and their jobs are very important," said Coach O.
On the flip side of needing a little more umph on kickoffs, the extra five yards should give our talented return specialists a little more head start to pick out their lanes and get in the open field. We have speed and quickness to burn in those areas.
The special teams were very good in 2006.
Expect them to be just as good, if not better, in 2007.
Special Teams update -
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