Sam Hellman - Scout

Audio: 1-on-1 with Rutgers Special Teams Coordinator Vince Okruch

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- If you're on the two deep, you play special teams at Rutgers. Coordinator Vince Okruch sits down with Scout in a discussion about position battles, philosophy and the return game. What specialists impressed so far?

Listen to Scarlet Report's discussion with Rutgers special teams coordinator Vince Okruch via the player above or simply read through the transcript below.

On the kicking game...

We need a lot of work. I don't think we're in a bad situation, but we've certainly got to get a lot of things done before we're ready to play. David Bonagura has gotten so much more physical strength after going through coach [Kenny] Parker's offseason. He's showing his abilities. He kicked the ball better. Jared [Smolar] is a freshman. So, pleased? Absolutely not. Can he see it happening? Yeah.”

On what he needs to see at kicker...

It's consistency. Technically right now, David has an issue with his follow-through. When he's on, he's OK. Jared came in trying to become the kickoff guy and the real challenge for him right now is the speed of the game. High-school field goal kicking, they snap back, he kicks it. … He's a really strong kid. It's a lot for a guy that should have spent his last semester going to prom and graduation. I think they'll both be fine.”

On punter production...

Very very pleased – Michael Cintron has been hitting the ball exceptionally well all camp. His consistency in the spring was less-than ideal. This fall, he's been really, really consistent. Tim [Gleeson] had back surgery so he's still getting back in the groove. [The scrimmage] was a better day for him. It was his best day so far, but I want to be prudent in how we bring him along especially involving some disc work.”

On kick returns...

The guy is going to be the guy. Janarion Grant is so impressive. We'll have an off-returner and that's still wide open. We're working people there.”

On Janarion Grant's explosiveness...

He can get vertical right away. I teased him yesterday, we did some punt returns, some kickoff return phases. I got back and said 'you used to be a pain in my you-know-what for the last couple of years' and he smiled. He's a very gifted guy. What we need to do is find a way to get him going. Once he gets vertical, he's got first-step speed. He goes from standing flat-footed catching a ball to full speed in one step. Has no fear. I think he enjoys it. Getting to know him better, he's the kind of kid that likes to do this kind of stuff. He wants to be special and he is.”

On punt returns...

Same thing. [Grant] will be the guy. … When we work punt return, that's a special guy. Kickoff return is a little different. You've got time and distance. Punts, there's some guys coming down there angry and he has such a poise about him. It's very, very impressive. … We're still rolling two to three guys to be fair that we're trying to train in the unlikely event that we need them and the reality of it is, there will be a time when he's gone. Then if I fast forward to some things that we may have to do schematically later on, we may have to play with two returners because you're going to find people that are not going to kick him the ball. If you're playing chess, the next move is, well if you're going to put him in the middle, you're going to kick it far-right or far-left. Then we'll put two out there. You have to kick it to one of them.”

Starters play on special teams...

Absolutely. You have to be on the two-deep. … I think there was a learning process. Coach Ash made it perfectly clear. This is how important the kicking game is to our program. It's one of our four ways to win games. You have to win the kicking battle. If I was being perfectly honest, the first time we said it a lot of guys kind of shook their head and said 'yeah sure.' Now they say, 'hey coach I need to get on another unit. I plan on playing and I'm not on it.' That head coach involvement, the head coach making it a priority for me to be the special teams coordinator and have that kind of special teams involvement, that's invaluable. It's like we say. If I'm recruiting you to play running back, the whole time I talk to you about coming to Rutgers and being a running back, I never said 'oh by the way you're going to be the right guard on punt team. That never came up. Now we're asking them to do something that they weren't recruited to do in a very chaotic world. When you get on special teams now, it could be literally 15 seconds from one group runs on, one group runs out and here we go. … When everybody has to do it, the impact is huge. I can tell you from day one of training camp to our team meeting yesterday, you can see the beginning of the culture that we want. Hey this is literally a third of the game. We showed them some statistics from last year. If you look at the Washington State game, our first Division I game, we played a third of the snaps but 50 percent of the scoring. We scored 23 points on special teams last year against Washington State. So that's part of the plan. The obvious is for field position but if you pop one and all of a sudden you've got a great chance at winning the game. You block a punt, you win the game. I think the culture that Chris has installed, their buy in has been tremendous because they know it's not going to change. It's non-negotiable.”


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