Stanford Special Teams, like the rest of the squad, got off to an uneven start in 2016 against Kansas State. While Conrad Ukropina, Jake Bailey, and Trenton Irwin had strong performances, there was a botched onside kick return attempt and a kickoff that required three tries after consecutive offsides. Nevertheless, Coach Pete Alamar’s special teams are likely to play a crucial role in 2016, and we were able to get some insight from him on the process of putting those teams together.
On setting the various lineups:
Alamar: “First off, each job has a job description. And I break the team down into body types 1, 2, and 3. And then, certain jobs require certain types….We go through all spring ball, the only team we line up is the punt team. Everybody else is all fundamental group work. And it’s just getting a chance to evaluate these guys doing the body skills and the movements that you’ve got to do for each phase, so you know you’re gonna find the guy who does it best and fits that body type into that job description and that’s how you start to narrow your group down. And then you’ll usually come up with a three deep and then work through fall camp again, going through a lot of individual work and fundamental work and find the guys who I think gives us the best chance to do the job and then I put those pieces together.
On McCaffrey’s availability on cover teams:
“I’m happy to use him as a returner. You know, ‘don’t push your luck’.”
“Go back to his true freshman year, he started on kickoff he started on punt. He was the gunner on punt, he was the knife on kickoff, he was second on our team in tackles as a true freshman.
On weighing cost/benefit of using starters on special teams:
“You’ve got to look at how much is that person playing on offense or defense and if you’ve got somebody that’s playing 60 or 70 snaps a week of offense or defense than you’re probably gonna start him on one team in the kicking game and you’ve just got to choose where is he gonna best help the football team? And do that, I try to balance, I talk to the offense, I talk to the defense, I ask how much are these gonna play this week? Are we using a rotation? You know, the good news for us this year, we’re fairly deep in the secondary, we’re deep at inside linebacker, you’re gonna see a lot of guys playing. Well, if there’s a lot of guys playing it also opens up the number of snaps they can take in the kicking game. So if you look at us we average typically two and three starters per unit, two or three quote starters on any one unit, but all those guys that are on those we’ll have three of four guys who are core teamers, that that’s their primary role is to play special teams but then you’re gonna have four or five guys on each unit that are guys that playing on offense, playing on defense, you know, coming into certain spots on the kicking game, so you know, it’s all part of the puzzle.”
As I’ve said before, all head coaches pay lip service to special teams, but the ones who really prioritize it make their starters available at least to some extent. That certainly seems to be the case with Stanford, who benefitted last year from a strong overall year on special teams but certainly could use improvement in both its kickoff and punt coverage. With tough road games on the horizon, to say nothing of USC in nine days, track the progress of Stanford special teams and especially who is making plays. They may very well end up deciding one of these games.