Most of the time, a lot of special teams issues are figured out in spring training.
About the only thing resolved on the special teams front in spring was identifying that junior Josh Shene would take care of field goal and PAT duties and, most likely, Marshay Green/Dexter McCluster would be the main candidates to field punts and Mike Wallace would be a mainstay returning kickoffs.
"We've still got a lot of things in the air. We are doing a lot of juggling right now," said the personable Shibest. "I can't spend my time worrying about it because it's like offense and defense - you have to play with what you have, but we are scrambling to put it all together with some issues still not resolved."
What is not resolved? For one, nobody has stepped up and clearly taken the punting job.
"We are real inconsistent with the punting game right now," said Shibest prior to yesterday's better showing. "That has to come around for us. Nobody has stepped up and taken that job by the throat yet."
Justin Sparks and Rob Park both averaged better than 40 yards per kick in Wednesday's practice, but prior to that, punting has not been much to write home about.
Another area is kickoffs. In three days of practice, there has not been live kickoff work yet. Word is this weekend may be the first kickoff work - after full pads are on.
"I haven't seen the new youngster (Bryson Rose) kick yet in live situations, but I've gotten OK reports from the summer that he might be able to help there. We also have Justin and David Hankins working there," Shibest said somewhat blindly. "In the offseason, it's against the rules for us to watch anything involving a football, so we really don't know yet, but we know we have to have improvement from spring."
While the act of kicking the ball - be it punting, kickoffs or placements - is the biggest key to special teams, there are other variables and Shibest is getting more comfortable in the coverage, protection and return aspects.
"It all starts with the kickers and punters, but I think we have guys who can cover, protect and return," Shibest noted. "We have good depth on defense in terms of the types of bodies you want on the coverage and return team - linebackers, safeties, corners, and even wideouts. It's just a matter of finding out who wants it the most and who understands the importance of doing the job right. I feel OK hat we will get all that worked out because I think we have enough candidates for those duties out there. Our kickers and punters just have to give us a chance."
Early on, it looks like Green and McCluster will handle putn return duties - Green more than Dexter, and Wallace will be in the mix for kickoff returns.
"We want quicker guys fielding the punts. Guys who can move side to side quickly are better for punt returns," he continued. "That fits Marshay and Dexter. We like that bigger body type with kickoffs and Wallace fits that along with Cordera Eason and maybe these new running backs like Enrique Davis and Brandon Bolden.
"We have a chance to have a good group of return guys. I'm pretty excited about them."
The other "mechanics" on the special teams are solid.
"I feel real good about our snapper (Preston Powers) and our holder (Park). They are doing a very good job to this point," he added.
And then there is Shene. After a stellar freshman year, Josh struggled, by his standards, a year ago. Shibest sees him shaking off last year and coming back strong.
"Josh was good in spring and he's been good thus far this fall. He's hitting the ball solidly and accurately," Shibest stated. "I think there's something special to that kid and I think he's going to have a really good year. We certainly need him to."
Which leads us back to where we started - punting and kickoffs are the main issues to face and conquer.
"Consistency in punting is what we have to see, as I said. The legs we are working with are strong enough, they just have to be good more often," he said. "With kickoffs, we don't want to squib it around. We want to kick it as deep as we can and cover, but we have to find someone who can get some distance on it. We'll see."
Shibest coaches tight ends as well. Early impressions?
"David Traxler and Gerald Harris are doing well. They aren't making any mental mistakes to speak of. I'm very pleased so far. And Reggie Hicks can help us too," Shibest noted. "They are catching the ball well and doing the things we want them to do. They just have to keep it up.
"I am also very impressed with our two freshmen, E.J. Epperson and Ferbia Allen. "Their minds are spinning right now and they are kind of lost out there, but they both have good ball skills and they both have the frames to fit the position. I think they can be real good in time."
The unknown. . .
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