Double Duty

Defensive coordinator and safeties coach Joe DeForest has as much on his plate as any other football assistant coach, but his duties with specialists adds yet more to his already busy schedule.

DeForest, along with the rest of West Virginia's revamped defensive coaching staff, has been busy attending to the 1,001 tasks that face new coaches installing a new system. DeForest and co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson had to work out their coaching methodologies, practice plans, installation schedules and the like, all while learning their personnel and figuring out the best way to fit them into the system. That's enough of a workload for any coach, but DeForest has also been working with the Mountaineer specialists – another time-consuming task that has him conscious of scheduling and planning his time.

Of course, DeForest isn't the first coach to oversee more than one position. Assistants often handle their position and one or more special teams, or handle two related spots (say, outside linebackers and strong safeties). However, in DeForest's case, he's handling two entirely different positions – and ones that drill far apart from each other for much of every practice session. That creates some challenges for DeForest, but he has worked out a plan, based on long experience, that he thinks is working well.

"I'm working with the kickers and punters and long snappers," DeForest said of his specialist duties, which he oversees in addition to his work with safeties. "I meet with them every day and we watch film together. It's hard, it's a stretch, but I've been doing it for most of my life so I just make it work."

West Virginia's practice time on the field also keeps DeForest busy. He will work with the specialists at the start of each session, then oversee their work during the special teams periods that typically take up the first four or five periods (five minutes each) of a typical practice. DeForest typically looks on with a stopwatch, timing the interval it takes to get a kick or punt away, and also watches for any problems in mechanics that might crop up. He'll correct those, then turn the specialists loose for their own work on another field, but not without direction.

"They have a book, a chart that they follow every day, just like we do for offense and defense," DeForest explained. "I think they are all doing good. They are learning [from] me and I am learning [about] them."

One thing DeForest does not try to do is make big changes to any of his players' mechanics. Like a basketball player's shot or a baseball pitcher's throwing motion, mechanics are things to be modified gently, if at all.

"You aren't going to change a kid at this point. All you can do is tweak," he confirmed. "You might change his footwork or his plant foot, but you can't do an overhaul."

In any event, DeForest doesn't see the need for such changes. Saying "we have a great group of kids", he's more focused on making sure that the kickers don't wear themselves out during fall camp – a concern of coached everywhere. Thus, he monitors their daily kicking totals and keeps close tabs on them during their meeting room discussions and film studies.

One big topic of discussion, work and even experimentation has been the rule changes for kickoffs this year. With kickoffs moved up to the 35-yard lines, going for touchbacks might be more tempting for some teams – although those touchbacks now come out to the 25-yard line, not the 20. That, in turn, might lead some teams to try to kick high and deep and pin returns inside the 20 – again, depending on the strength of the opponent and the ability of the kicker. There's been a lot of theorizing and practicing of different strategies and tactics, but DeForest admits that the whole area is something of an unknown.

"No question it's a mystery," he said of what opponents will do on returns. "I don't know if we kicked off right now if we can get touchbacks. I don't know that, so I think we will have to [be prepared] to cover the kickoff. Some of it is based on whether you can get a touchback or not, and based on if you are playing an opponent that is bringing it out no matter how deep the kick goes. If that's the case you have to place them strategically. If you are playing a team that is not confident in its return game, then you just have to kick it deep and hope for the touchback."

Once a few games are played, DeForest and Steve Dunlap, who coordinates all of the special teams, will have video of how their future opponents are handling kickoffs and returns, and will be able to craft specific strategies against them. However, one mystery still remains, on that DeForest indicates is still being worked on.

"The onside kick rule, we have been trying to figure that out. They've basically taken that out," DeForest said of the rule change that allows receiving team to call for a fair catch on a ball that is driven directly into the ground and bounces once high into the air. "So, we are working on ways to figure out how to be creative in that area. The [kickers] have had ideas and I've had ideas, and now we're trying to figure out what we can execute. It's great to have ideas, but can you execute them?"

With such challenges still remaining, it's clear that Deforest will still be working hard on his double duties as the season progresses.

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