Mele pulling the pin on WSU special teams

PULLMAN – One Cougar player coming out of the tunnel Saturday against Southern Cal (Pac-12 Networks, 1:30 p.m.) will be carrying something extra with him. Its contents, special teams coordinator Eric Mele says, are top secret.

Since Mele took over for Eric Russell, he's been working on motivating and incentivizing the Cougar special teams.

It's one piece to the plan of turning the WSU special teams into special forces (photo at bottom).

A camouflaged briefcase, grenade and t-shirt are the “three biggies.”

“The briefcase goes out to the guy who really practices hard all week, the guy who symbolizes that week what we want from a special teams player,” said Mele. “The contents, what’s inside there are top secret, only they get to look at it.

“Last week, Frankie Luvu had a big hit on kickoff, knocked his guy into the ball carrier, the ball came loose and we got as turnover there. It was the first time we had done that all year. That’s a grenade. That’s a guy being explosive, going in there and making a play and knocking someone on their tail.”

The plastic grenade has a pin that when you pull it and release the lever, a countdown begins, followed by a loud explosion noise.

“And then the t-shirt goes out to the guy that during the game really executed all of his assignments and played with great effort and passion,” said Mele.

Luvu carried out the briefcase last Saturday after having the best week of practice and followed it up with the forced fumble. Vince Mayle and Dylan Hanser received grenades for their work and Parker Henry was awarded a t-shirt.

IT’S NOT POSSIBLE TO TELL ON TV but Mayle certainly isn’t alone. Mele said starters make up roughly half the punt coverage, punt return, kickoff coverage and kickoff return units, (although some of those starters haven’t always been available. Mele, like Mike Leach, declines to acknowledge let alone mention injuries.)

“You watch the four clips, there were four punts last week (vs. Arizona,)” said Mele. “The first one, there were four guys who had the opportunity to make the play. Didn’t make the play. The next punt, we have the entire team down there – a 53-yard punt and we drop him for a one-yard loss. Next one is in the end zone, next one is downed on the two-yard line.”

Three out of four punt-coverage plays produced virtually perfect results. But the one that didn't was a killer.

“So that’s what I told the guys: Obviously, you can do it. So do it every play. If you can do it this time, do it on the play before… It wasn’t for lack of effort. That would be a little more disturbing to me if that was the case as far as keeping me up nights. I’m still not sleeping great but at least I know they tried their best. But we need to make the play. It’s that simple,” said Mele.

THERE ARE TWO PERIODS EACH practice dedicated to special teams work. The emphasis at this point in the season is on technique and playing fast, said Mele.

“The time has gotten shortened up a little bit -- not as much emphasis on schematics, it’s a lot more repetition on technique and the basics, playing fast. And you get those full reps, those full speed reps, just not as many of them.”

Leach said when he installed Mele as the special teams coordinator that it would be a group effort involving other assistants. Jim Mastro (kickoff return) and Ken Wilson (punt return) head up those units and have a role in the others, Mele has the punt and kickoff coverage units and Dennis Simmons has a role in all of the units as well. The WSU graduate assistants of course are all involved.

Mele still handles some of his old responsibilities as an offensive quality assistant, such as breaking down film and putting together Power Point presentations, though Graham Harrell has taken over a portion in order to free Mele up for special teams.

By Tuesday afternoon, prior to that day's practice, a bevy of meetings and massive amount of film work is in the rear view mirror. This past Sunday night, Mele and the coaches didn’t call it a day until 2:30 a.m. That's not atypical for a Sunday.

On Monday, (an off-day for the Cougar players in terms of practice), Mele and the coaches are spending long hours hashing out what they want the drills and practice to look like for that week, and getting things down tight to the last detail.

“That’s always an adventure,” said Mele of the marathon process that takes place between Sunday and Tuesday afternoon's practice. “And as you’re buzzing film, you’re doing recruiting, receiving recruiting phone calls, those types of things. They come in from all over the map.”


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