What will the special teams look like?

New special teams coach Joe Robinson is tasked with trying to reverse a long trend of bad special teams at South Carolina. But just what will the Gamecocks special teams unity look like this year? And what are some of Robinson's philosophies? Look inside to find out.

For all the strides the South Carolina program has made in recent seasons, there has still been one consistent problem holding the Gamecocks back: special teams.

There's no one person to point a finger at.

Multiple coaches have taken their best shot at fixing the Gamecocks' special teams. And there have been improvements in some areas along the way. But the one constant is that the special teams as a whole have been at best average and at worst really bad.

New special teams coordinator Joe Robinson is the man tasked with reversing years of bad special teams play.

So what will the units that he fields this season actually look like?

"I think there are probably as many differences in special teams [schemes] as there are in offenses," Robinson says. "That being said, I don't think there's a huge difference in some of the things that you saw the Gamecocks do last year.

"I think probably when you look across the country, the difference in special teams usually is the emphasis and the players buying in and believing, and who's out there. I think that comes back to where Coach Spurrier has done a great job, as the leader of this team, of making special teams important."

Robinson says that Spurrier has stood up in front of the team on multiple occasions and stressed how important special teams truly are. Spurrier has also backed that word by giving Robinson access to any players, starters included, to put together his special teams units.

The early results have been positive.

"The way they've accepted what we're teaching them, the effort that they're giving is fantastic," Robinson says. "We've got some very talented guys in our coverage rolls, in our protection roles, and just overall, very, very pleased with what we've seen."

Robinson believes that in the end that extra attention and effort will lead to better results.

"Our players right now, I truly believe in my heart, that they're buying in to what we do on special teams."

Looking for consistency

Robinson will have to replace kicker Jay Wooten and punter Joey Scribner-Howard after each exhausted his eligibility last season.

Senior Adam Yates and redshirt freshman Landon Ard competed all spring for placekicking duties, while redshirt sophomore Patrick Fish and junior Mike Williamson are competing for the punter job.

"We've got some specialists out here that can do some really good things," Robinson says. "What we don't have right now is consistency. If these guys can become more consistent, then we've got some guys that can help us win."

Robinson says that the kickers are closer to where they need to be than the punters, but that the punters had a strong close to the spring.

"I think the inconsistency is caused by inconsistent technique," he explained. "So there's a lot of drills -- and some of them are mental, focus [related] -- most of them are physical where we're trying to get to the point where we drop the ball the same way every time [or] take the same step every time.

"I think when we get to that point, I think we've all seen the way these guys hit the ball. The problem is they don't do it every time. I think if we can improve some consistency in our technique, we'll start to see some better, more consistent results."

Signee Nick St. Germain will not arrive on campus until the summer but will also been in the mix at kicker.

"He's a very, very accurate field goal kicker," Robinson says. "A guy that I think is going to develop into a very good kickoff specialist also at this level. And a tireless, tireless worker. He works hard. He wakes up in the morning, I think, thinking about kicking. He's very, very focused on his craft, and I think that's going to serve him well in his college career."

As for his two kickers and two punters who are on campus, Robinson refused to name a first-string and said the race is too close to call at this time.

"I'm proud of all of them. And I'm looking forward to camp and seeing them compete when we really are backed into a corner and have to make a decision."

Who returns kicks?

One small but noticeable difference for South Carolina this year is that Robinson will likely deploy two deep returners for kickoffs.

Last year's coordinator John Butler preferred to stagger his two returners with one deeper than the other so that he got the majority of the returns.

Robinson, who actually did allow a small amount of full-speed tackling on special teams at one point this spring, has been impressed with his options to send back there.

"I think we're blessed there," he says. "If we can find someone to coach up the rest of the [return] team, well be alright. That's on me. ... We've got a number of guys who've been back there."

Bruce Ellington was South Carolina's primary returner last year and is back. Ace Sanders, the Gamecocks' punt returner a season ago, is now in the mix as a kickoff returner as well. Robinson singled out cornerback Victor Hampton as being very impressive in practice. And sophomore Damiere Byrd is the fastest player on the team.

"What I've seen back there are some guys that have speed and are fearless and they want to take that ball north and south, and they want to make plays. They catch the football and they go north and south and they believe something's going to happen. That's been the most impressive thing and there's more than one of them."

Go get the punter!

Robinson also shared his philosophies on rushing the other team's punter. And he doesn't believe in ever letting him get too comfortable.

"I think if we can develop ourselves into a productive rush unit, then that's the best thing you can do. You always want to try to heat up that punter and I think you can generate returns off of a good rush, just as well as you can any other way.

"Now that's if you're productive, because we can't give up a possession. So, if we're unproductive, if our guys aren't disciplined enough to stay off the punter, then obviously you have to take that into account. But all things being equal, if we can put pressure on the punter, we're sure going to try to do it."

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