The Rychleski Factor
To say Ray Rychleski has hit the ground running at USC would be an understatement. The intense special teams coach may have only been on the USC practice field for three days, but it's not hard to see why Rychleski's Maryland units were so successful.
In a mere three practices, the 28-year coaching veteran has changed the way USC practices special teams and the way the Gamecock players view special teams.
While South Carolina lost some games last year due to poor special teams play, Rychleski says he has been pleasantly surprised with a lot of what he has seen so far.
"We've got some good team speed. What I've noticed is the ‘want to' and desire of our team," Rychleski said. "In all phases, they want to be good. They're making mistakes, sure, but I just see a desire to get last year's bad taste out of your mouth and can't wait to get going. They've worked very hard in the offseason to get a chance to be out here."
Tight ends Weslye Saunders and Jared Cook have been impressive so far in practice, but their coach was a little weary of throwing too much praise their way this early in practice.
"We caught the ball well. We dropped a couple the other night. We got better today. Now, can we take it to Wednesday? That's the key. Everybody wants to catch passes, but we've also got to block."
Rychleski's special teams units have been at the practice fields early doing "pre-practice" punt drills during each of USC's workouts. Rychleski's punt formation, which went remarkably unchanged during his time at Maryland, features an all-important "personal protector" as the last line of defense for the punter. Rodney Paulk and Pat DiMarco have been working at the personal protector spot.
"(Paulk) is a football smart guy. He wants to do it. He's got good quickness (and) is a guy who can make plays," Rychleski said. "Pat DiMarco is a football player. He's a throwback. He probably should be playing for the Green Bay Packers of the Vince Lombardi era."
Rychleski has talked in the past about wanting to split up the punting, place-kicking, and kickoff duties, all of which Ryan Succop did last season.
"Right now, we've got a battle for the punting job between (Spencer) Lanning and Succop," Rychleski said. "It would be outstanding if Lanning could be the starting punter. We would be a better football team for it, but he's got to be better than Succop. Right now I'd say it's about a dead-even type thing, but I was pleasantly surprised with Spence tonight."
The punter's job is not the only one of the special teams spots that a battle is brewing at. While USC has had trouble finding a legitimate threat at punt returner in the past, that may not be the case any more.
"That's an area that we've got really good competition, and that's something that everyone wants to be," Rychleski said. "We've got six guys that I think can take it to the house on any given occasion."
According to Rychleski, he would like to cut down the number of guys there already, but each brings his own unique strengths to the position.
"(Akeem Auguste) has got quick feet. That kid's a football player. He's just young, that's what makes me nervous about him and (Charles) Whitlock. (Dion) Lecorn I really like because he's been in the game, he's a tough guy. Captain (Munnerlyn), I've heard good things about. Kenny (McKinley) would be a nice back-up if we got a couple of injuries and that will be his deal."
Speedster Chris Culliver is the sixth of the candidates battling for the starting job.
Rychleski has also been impressed with Melvin Ingram, who has worked as the second string long-snapper.
"Melvin Ingram is getting better. That would be a pleasant surprise if he could come on," Rychleski said. "He doesn't know how good he could be. That's the thing, you've just got to get your mind right and make football very important to you. Melvin is an outstanding athlete. There are guys that are athletes, but I think he can be phenomenal."
While Rychleski's fresh approach on special teams may be new to Gamecock fans watching him at practice, you get the feeling the veteran coach doesn't know any other way it should be done. Much like Spurrier, the players already seem to know what they're getting with Rychleski and they respect him for it.
"In coaching in general you should have energy. You don't have to be a yeller and a screamer," Rychleski said. "When guys do things well they should be patted on the back, but when they do things wrong they should be told about it."
Despite USC's past special teams failures there is no reason to believe Rychleski can't right the ship in that regard. His perfectionist attitude already seems to be rubbing off on those around him.
"They've told me in the past a lot of kids didn't want to be on special teams. I haven't seen that. I think they all are chomping at the bit just to be successful," Rychleski said. "And when you want to be successful you're going to do whatever the team needs to be successful."
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