Beamer Brings Fresh Approach To Special Teams

The Gamecock defense has steadily improved in Steve Spurrier's first two years, and his offense appears poised for a solid campaign in 2007. One glaring weakness in those first two seasons, however, was on special teams, and in February Spurrier made a move to address that problem. caught up recently with Shane Beamer, the man Spurrier brought in for those special team answers.

Beamer is the son of Virginia Tech Head Coach Frank Beamer, who has made his personal emphasis on special teams one of his main claims to fame as a coach. His special teams gained national recognition for their outstanding performances through the years, so much that the Hokies named their style of play after their coach: BeamerBall. In 20 seasons under the elder Beamer, Virginia Tech has scored 37 special team touchdowns (15 on blocked punts, 13 on punt returns, four on blocked field goals, four on kickoff returns and one on a recovered fumble), and have blocked 113 kicks (57 punts, 35 field goals and 21 extra points), according to the school.

Shane Beamer played for his father at VT from 1995-1999, serving as the starting long snapper for three seasons as well as contributing some at wide receiver. Later, as a graduate assistant coach at Georgia Tech and Tennessee, Beamer would occasionally sit in on Hokie practices and study his father's special teams play so he could master the techniques himself. When asked what it takes to have successful special teams play, Beamer said, "First it takes a head coach who puts an emphasis on it. If you don't have that, it doesn't matter who you have. Coach Spurrier is putting an emphasis on it. Coach Spurrier was in every special teams meeting that we had, and will continue to stress it when we get into the pre-season."

Spurrier had said before Beamer's arrival that he would be more involved in special teams after USC's 2006 struggles in the kicking game. In addition to bringing in Beamer, he is now having all of his assistants work with some aspect of special teams this season. Last year, Fred Chatham oversaw all of the special teams units, but this season Spurrier is splitting up the duties and making Beamer and Chatham co-coordinators. Beamer, who outside of special teams, works primarily with the outside linebackers on defense, will oversee the block teams and return teams, while Chatham, who also coaches tight ends, will work with the PAT and field goal units as well as coverage teams.

Beamer said the second element of successful special teams play is "You've got to have players. It's not as simple as throwing 11 guys out there and teaching them what to do. Each role out there on special teams requires a certain kind of player, and we're trying to identify the guys who best give us a chance to be successful on the different special teams units. I feel we've got a chance to be successful because we've got more players capable of doing what we ask of them on special teams. Hopefully, we'll put a special teams unit out there that's opportunistic and striving, looking for the big play. Hopefully we'll have a lot of those during the season."

USC just signed what is widely considered its best recruiting class ever, and Beamer is looking forward to seeing some of those newcomers make an impact on special teams. "When we get some of these freshmen coming in and involved, we'll see what kind of unit we can put out on the field in the fall. Don't be surprised if a lot of true freshmen end up seeing significant action on special teams," he said. 5-star rated signee Cliff Matthews showed in the Shrine Bowl and other post-season games what kind of speed he has off the edge, and Beamer plans to use freshman defensive ends like Matthews and 6‘7" Clifton Geathers on the punt block and field goal block teams.

Caption: Newcomers like Clifton Geathers, seen here working on the kick block unit during spring practice, have the potential to make an early impact on USC's special teams.

Another incoming freshman Beamer and Spurrier have both said they hope has an impact is speedster Chris Culliver of Garner, NC. "I'm hoping he can come in and make a big impact." Beamer said. "He's a guy we feel can help us as a returner and be a big play type of guy. He's one of those kind of guys who can score every time he touches the ball. The more of those kind of guys you have on your team, the better off you're going to be."

Asked about his first couple of hectic months at Carolina, he said, "It was great. Hectic is definitely an understatement. Starting right after signing day, a lot of hires like that are made in December or January. This was made after recruiting and about three weeks before spring practice started. You're trying to get over here and learn, meet the coaching staff, meet the players and figure out who they are, and put names with faces, trying to learn the defense you're going to be running, so when you do go out there and coach, you do know what the heck you're talking about. Not to mention everything away from football, like getting moved. It was a busy couple of months, but it's starting to slow down. We've gotten settled. The coaching staff here is awesome, the players have been great and everyone's welcomed us and made us even more certain that this was the right decision."

Beamer came to Columbia after three seasons at Mississippi State, where the 29 year-old held his first position as a full-time assistant coach. USC is now the fourth program Beamer has been on staff with, and when asked what stands out about South Carolina and working with Coach Spurrier, Beamer replied, "It's a family atmosphere here - the players on our team, their families, our coaches. It's about family. That's neat to see. What jumped out about Coach Spurrier is he knows how to win. He's won wherever he's been, and he has his way of doing things. I learn more about him everyday. It‘s just a standard of excellence he expects. He wants our guys to be the best on and off the field. He's a competitor and expects to win now, and he translates that to our team."

In addition to his responsibilities with the special teams, Beamer will coach the outside linebackers and nickel backs for the Gamecocks. When asked what he expects of his linebacker corps this season, he said, "Hopefully a lot of plays. You'll see our guys being great run stoppers. When you have guys who are playmakers, being around the football, guys who can run and get to the football when they're hustling and going full speed to get to the ball, good things will happen. That's what we expect. I know Coach Nix has talked about it. Our whole goal is to create turnovers and get the ball back for our offense. The best way to do that is to create turnovers, and that's what we are trying to do. We're very deep at that position. I feel like we've got a good number of guys that we can throw out there on a Saturday and win with. We're fortunate to have that luxury of having some depth. We want to utilize our guys and be a productive, playmaking kind of group."

Unfortunately the Hokie football team's excelling at special teams play is not the first thing that comes to mind when people think of Virginia Tech these days. In the aftermath of the shooting tragedy there that left 32 people and the accused gunman dead, the football team cancelled the remainder of their spring practice, including their spring game. The first shooting on campus was across from the football office, and the other was near an athletic dorm, giving Beamer real cause for concern about his family. As he watched the tragedy unfold on TV with the rest of the nation, he was unable to reach his family for several hours. His mother Cheryl finally got through and told him they were all ok.

Talking about the Virginia Tech players and coaches, Beamer said, "It was tough on all of them, that was their classmates (who were killed). You're talking about a school where my Dad went to school and has been there the last 20 years. It hits close to home, and it affects the athletes just like it does any of the other students. Dad was shook up and devastated like everybody else, but he knows what the spirit of Virginia Tech is about. He knows that this will only make everyone up there stronger."

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