(For those of you who did not get a game program at the Red-Blue Game, we had in-depth interviews with each assistant football coach about their respective position(s). Over the next week or so, we will publish those offerings, and update them where necessary, here. Enjoy. Part VI – The Specialists.)
Special Teams Coordinator James Shibest has a few wait-and-see bones in his body, especially when there are so many elements to digest.
During spring training, there were some good moments, some bad moments and some downright ugly moments with the many facets of special teams play.
Shibest did some scatter shooting as he touched on the special teams, starting with placements.
"In some areas, we will be concerned until we see how they perform in games. We have confidence in Bryson Rose, but we want to see how he handles the crowds. His spring stats were very good, until the end and then all our placement guys got a little off target," James said. "David Hankins has also put up some good numbers in spring. As coaches, whoever wins the job, we will be patient with and won't get into the trap of pulling one real quickly. We are hoping one of them will take over and take off.
"The holding-snapping operation has been pretty good with Richie Contartesi doing the holding. He has some experience and seems more comfortable now, and Wesley Phillips, who has snapped some in games, has been very consistent in spring. He learned a lot from Preston Powers the last few years."
(Phillips had a biking accident the Sunday before the Red-Blue Game and was not able to play. He had a knee injury and had some minor surgery to repair the issue.)
Andrew Ritter returns as the kickoff man and Tyler Campbell as the punter, both sophomores, return.
"Andrew did a heckuva job for us last year as a true freshman, better than most people realize. He's also working on his placements this spring, but he's not quite ready for that yet, even though we think he will be before his time is over. Hankins has also improved his leg strength and had some solid kickoffs this spring, so we know we have reliable backup there," Shibest continued. "We feel real good about Tyler, who had a great year last year as far as numbers go. I think he was near the top in our conference, average-wise. He's got a lot, a whole lot, of potential. We're just helping him through the transition of a new snapper and he'll be real good. We're working on his consistency and a few minor technique issues, but he's real well this spring.
"From a kicking perspective, I feel pretty good. Again, we slumped at the end in placements, but I know the ability is there."
In the return game, is appears Jesse Grandy is the man, in kickoff and punt returns.
"We are not sure if his duties at wide receiver, KOR and PR will be too much for him or not, but he's the best we have in the return game. He was awesome as a freshman in KOR and we feel he can be just as good in punt returns," assessed James. "Rodney Scott or Derrick Herman will probably be teamed with Jesse deep in kickoff return, but Korvic Neat is also a guy we need to keep looking at.
"We're just a little concerned with punt returns because it's a different deal with people in your face going full speed. Jesse has looked good, but we want to see more of it live. We can be exceptional there if it works out. Jesse has the ability to make people miss. Once he makes the first guy miss, anything can happen with him. He can be dynamic."
Shibest feels better about his numbers in coverage teams after spring training.
"We have some big bodies who can run and are physical. Guys like Damien Jackson, Lakenwic Haynes, Terrell Grant, Mike Marry, Johnny Brown, D.T. Shackelford, Joel Kight, Alex Williams. We have all our starters but three returning on the punt team, so we feel good there. Our gunners , Lionel Breaux and Marcus Temple, were good last year and they are back with us," he explained. "Allen Walker and Reggie Hicks and Jonathan Cornell are all very good. Fon Ingram is another guy who can help out. I think we have more of the kind of bodies we are looking for than we have in the past."
Analysis: Grandy brings an electricity to the return game that is a big play waiting to happen. His freshman campaign proved that. Now a little bigger and a lot more savvy, Grandy can be a major threat. Kickoffs – no problem. Ritter and Hankins are more than capable. Punts – no major issues other than Campbell getting a little more consistent. There isn't a stronger leg in the league. Snapping/holding – pretty good, and there's time to iron out what few wrinkles remain. Support personnel – as Shibest said, there are more of the types of bodies and skill sets required for coverage and return personnel than has been available in the past. Overall, the only issue was the slump by the placement guys late in spring, but up until then, they were effective.
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