With the problems in coverage, how do you correct them?
An element that we have to be concerned with is the development of the kicker. Josh (Shene) didn't kick in the first two games, and we have to get his consistency where we want it. Initially, the first film I saw of him, he could kick the ball out of the end zone no matter where it was, but we haven't had that. We started out with Christian, who had a great camp, but he didn't do well. It is between those two, but we have to get better kicks. The development of young guys is also important. We go into a game saying we are using our best guys, and then Jonathan Cornell goes down and Robert Hough goes down. Jamarca is down for a play. All a sudden, guys are in that are inexperienced at that position. We have to improve that. From a kickoff return standpoint, we haven't had the big breakouts, but we haven't been poor either. Our excitements and our expectations are to put the ball way down the field. And again, it is a matter of getting the right people in the right spot. Another problem you have is that teams change things. We go through a nine-game or 11-game breakdown of what they did the year before. We have an anticipation of what we will see from other teams, and then the game starts and it is completely different. I can tell you from this past weekend. Vanderbilt changed their kickoff return, so now you have to adjust. Veteran groups can do that very easily. The not-so-veteran groups have to come to the sidelines and be taught the adjustments. We are at a point now where we should be much more sound.
How has injuries affected special teams?
Getting people in the right spot and becoming more consistent is the tougher part. With Coach O, you are going to play on special teams. If you need a blow, then you are going to take a play off on offense or defense. It isn't slighting us at all. But when a kid gets dinged up, a kid is dinged up. After that, we bring the new guy in, and what is his familiarity. Those second-team spots are held by younger kids without experience.
What does Josh need to do in order to be successful?
He has to realize that he is going to be the PAT, field goal and kickoff guy. He can do both and should be able to do both. We went this year with a sideline kick where we try to squeeze it into small parts of the field to limit the return capability. It is a philosophy with a lot of research on what the NFL people are doing because they are kicking off from the same spot. The schemes on kickoffs are harder for a kicker to adjust to because now there is a boundary. When you kick it down the middle of the field, there is a lot of room, and he can just let it rip. If he kicks it to the side a little, then it is only the hash mark. Now, we are trying to put it on the numbers, and he has a sideline to worry about. If you talk to a kicker, that is undue stress. That is cloudy in their world. They like routines with minimal outside influence. The goalpost is one thing with PATs and field goals, but when you kickoff, you have to overkick, and now I have a boundary to worry about. If the ball goes out of bounds, now it is on the 35, and everyone is mad at you. It is stress that they aren't accustomed to. He has to deal with that, and I think he will.
Is it growing pains because of the new rule?
We don't have Will Moseley, who is going to bang the thing 80 yards. It isn't a reality, and as we watch film of teams, everyone seems to be really affected. I could say that out of 30 or so kickoffs we have faced, maybe five have been in the end zone. You look at what everyone does, it has become a bigger play. It isn't an excuse. We have to do a better job of covering. That much is obvious.
What is the biggest difference with the coverages?
The discrepancy is where you engage the blockers and where you get to the returner. We did get to the returner at about the 15 and the 30 is where the front line was going to be. Now, that is happening at the 35 or the 40 because the kicks are only going to the five or 10. Everything has changed. With our kickoff return, we are averaging more on our kickoff returns than we did last year after three games. It just doesn't show. From our net average, it is improved, but from the visual eye, we aren't doing as well. The new rule puts a bigger premium on every team's ability to tackle, and we have struggled in that area.
Any possibility of sky kicks or squib kicks?
We have looked at that, and we have tried it three times. One was unsuccessful on Saturday, and against Missouri, we tired to kick it across the field because they were overcompensating. Those are tricks, but they aren't fundamental fixes. We have to work on fundamental fixes.
And how do you do that?
Fundamentally it is personnel, getting the kick down the field and understanding the concept of coverage. We have to look at our philosophy and understand when to squeeze kick close to the sidelines, and when we do, what does that mean for the coverage. How does the coverage change. We have to identify the right personnel for the right situation. We have four or five guys that we count on with the kickoff team and all a sudden, they are dinged up and not out there. Those main guys leave holes, and we have to do a better job of getting the next line of players ready to go.
Rippon talks special teams
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