As you probably have surmised, the punters, kickers, holders and long snappers make up the group under discussion. While their teammates received instant critiques, they perform much of their work without benefit (or perhaps the annoyance) of coaches hanging on their every move. Junior Corey Smith sees pluses and minuses in the situation.
"It's good having an extra set of eyes watching, but when it comes down to it, any of us can watch the others, and we also know our bodies, and we know when we are doing something wrong," the Inwood, W. Va. native said. "We know each other pretty well. I feel like I know some of Tyler Bitancurt's tendencies, and I am sure he knows some of mine. Some days if we are having trouble, I might ask him, or if he's having a problem I might say 'Hey you are getting your hips around to far'. We can help each other if need be."
Having a coach on the fie;d rather than relying on teammates might be more desirable in some circumstances, but the NCAA-mandated limit of nine assistant coaches precludes, for the most part, a coach that's dedicated exclusively for the specialists. While an offensive line coach might offer some instruction to a snapper or a special teams coordinator might have some experience that can help, for the most part kickers rely on their own tight fraternity for coaching advice. Bitancurt works with former WVU kicker Paul Woodside during the summer and offseason, while Smith has had more widespread help.
"I've worked with three or four different coaches," he explained. "I've worked with Tom Feely ((father of NFL kicker Jay Feely), Lee McDonald, Mike McCabe, Pat McAfee and Scott Kozlowski, and I worked with Michael Husted in Texas. I've had a lot of area covered."
While those coaches can't come on campus and work with players during practices, kickers can call then for advice. That sometimes occurs, but in the fraternity of specialists, it's also just as likely that they turn to each other for advice or to fix a problem. That falls in line with Smith's view of practice and his relationship with Bitancurt and the others on the team.
"We have a good time all day," he said of schedules that often stretch to 14 hours or beyond. At practice we compete and help make everyone better. We compete, but it's fun."
Smith, who looks to have a leg up on the punting job, also has designs on the placekicking slot. He's locked in a battle with Bitancurt for a job that head coach Dana Holgorsen has deemed "open'. He claims a 55-yard range out of a hold, and doesn't think that trying to win both jobs makes him less effective at either.
"Kicking (different jobs) is something I've done in high school. I've been doing it here [in practice]. Some people don't like to do both because it's too hard, because of the muscle memory. But I feel like it keeps me in the game more and helps me stay loose. The biggest thing to doing both is mental," he continued. "A lot of people can't get off good punts, and a lot can't get off good kickoffs and kicks. Keeping everything separate is more mental than anything else."
Smith also believes the revamped practice schedule introduced by Dana Holgorsen is aiding him in that quest. While camp practice days often begin at 8:00 a.m. and stretch to that hour in the evening, there are enough breaks and down time mixed in to keep the players more lively. Late afternoon\evening practices (beginning around 5:00 p.m.) also contribute.
"I think it benefits the team as a whole, but definitely the kickers," he said. "I've talked to Tyler about it. We both feel more fresh in this camp than we have in prior camps. We have about a four hour break in between [practices] so its easier for us to get off our feet, and it's not as strenuous even though we are here 12 or 14 hours a day."