Rucker, Giles Entrusted With Upgrading Kick Teams

During Texas' Rose Bowl championship season, its special teams were anything but. That's why two of the new coaches have been charged with improving Texas' erratic special teams play when spring training starts Friday.

"The biggest concern of our kicking game is our kickoff coverage," head coach Mack Brown said.

Texas' KO return defense finished the season at No. 100 (of 117 D-I teams) in the final rankings. That's a more porous return defense than even Baylor and Kansas put on the field. In fact, the only Big 12 team to finish lower than Texas was Nebraska (No. 113, 24.7 ypg). Now, coaches and players are so desirous to put last year's results in the history book that new monikers for special teams units have been introduced this spring. For example, the name of the kick-off coverage has been changed from The Stampede to The Wild Bunch.

"We didn't want to keep it the same name because The Stampede got trampled (in 2004)," Brown said. "We need a Wild Bunch to get in there and do a better job."

Nobody stampeded the KO coverage team last season as did Michigan specialist Steve Breaston who torched the Horns for Rose Bowl record 221 yards in kick returns. Michigan's average starting field position in the 2005 Rose Bowl was its own 45-yard line. Breaston's final return led directly to Michigan's go-ahead FG on its final possession, necessitating Texas to come-from-behind a second time during the closing minutes. More than any other single factor (more than uncontainable All-American WR Braylon Edwards), KO coverage nearly cost Texas its first-ever BCS win.

Brown attributed the breakdowns in coverage to late-season injuries. Rather than replacing coverage guys with first-teamers, Brown said, coaches resorted to "backups to the backups."

"It (coverage) was good two years ago," Brown noted, when Texas held opponents to 17 yards-per-return while under the direction of former DE coach Hardee McCrary. "What we need to do is get back to the same standard we had two years ago."

These days, new DE coach Oscar Giles has been entrusted with fortifying Texas' kickoff coverage team. Giles and McCrary conferred last week when the staff held kicking team meetings that lasted all day, Brown said.

Conversely, the punt return defense was relatively solid. The Horns surrendered just under seven ypr (NCAA No. 17). Senior Richmond McGee and junior Greg Johnson will vie for the punting duties that McGee has held the past two seasons.

The punt return team never fully recovered from Selvin Young's season-ending injury at Arkansas suffered just the second game of the season. Ramonce Taylor has the speed to break the big ones but Aaron Ross, relatively speaking, isn't a go-the-distance threat. Speedsters Quan Cosby and Jerrell Wilkerson loom as sudden-impact return specialists next fall.

New RB coach Ken Rucker will be in charge of the kickoff returns, a special teams area with which he has been involved at nearly every program during his coaching career. In fact, at Rucker's suggestion, the return team has also undergone a name change (and, presumably with it, a new identity). The group formerly known as Quick Six have now been dubbed House Party.

"Once they get into the end zone, they would be excited," Brown explained, "but the party will be on the sideline."

Senior David Pino will enter the spring as Brown's FG kicker but will be challenged by McGee and Greg Johnson. Johnson will also vie for punting duties that McGee has held the past two seasons.

Senior QB Matt Nordgren replaces Tony Jeffery as the holder on FG attempts; Brian Carter will likely serve as Nordgren's backup.

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY:

2004 TEXAS SPECIAL TEAMS RANKINGS

Category: NCAA Rank; YPG

Net Punting: No. 43; 36.7

Punt Returns: No. 85; 7.33

Punt Return Defense: No. 18; 6.79

KO Returns: No. 69; 19.5

KO Return Defense: No. 100; 23.26


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