BadgerNation: Talk about the philosophy you are bringing here with the special teams units and how important was it to get a jump start on building those units this spring?
Chris Haering: Coach Chryst is a firm believer in special teams, and we dedicate the first part of practice to special teams. It’s important to him, it’s important to me, obviously, and to our players. We want to make sure they understand that because big special teams plays in the football game usually are momentum changers. We want guys to understand that and embrace that.
BN: Your last game at Pittsburgh probably is a good teaching point of that. What did you take away from the breakdowns that happened to allowed Houston to recover two onside kicks in the fourth quarter?
CH: You always as a coach wonder what you could have done differently, and you want to detail it so when those guys take the field they have full confidence. Those were situations that we worked. That was one of our top special teams units all year, so we felt good about the position we were in. In retrospect if you say as a coach, boy, we should have worked that situation, we probably should have put more into it.
BN: What’s your philosophy on using starters vs. using reserves on the special teams units?
CH: We want the best players no matter who they are, and Coach is 100 percent behind that. If we can build roles for some guys that aren’t playing a bunch of reps on offense or defense and they are just as good, that’s certainly a great way to build depth on your football team for those guys to take a lot of those special teams reps. For me to stand here and say we’d just like to use starters or we’d just like to use backups, we’re going to put the best players out there, no matter what their situation is, and try to build depth and give guys roles. Special teams is a great way to do that.
BN: Have you seen anyone emerge on special teams through the spring that you were particularly impressed with?
CH: I wouldn’t say we have anybody at this stage that I am prepared to do that with. I think we have some new systems and some new coaching points that we are using, so it’d be unfair to evaluate those guys. I think it’s a great role for the kids and I think they’ve given us tremendous effort. They are very detailed in what we ask him to do.
BN: What are some of the new teaching points you are giving the players?
CH: I think just the way we’re coaching our punt operation. It’s a little bit different than what they’ve done in the past. It’s a philosophy of how we’re approaching kickoffs and setting up our kick returns. It’s going to vary from staff to staff and the buzzwords are going to differ from what they are used to. It’s our job as coaches to make sure they can understand them, play fast and execute.
BN: How much does it help having a former Wisconsin kicker in Taylor Mehlhaff working with you to help the kickers and punters?
CH: Taylor has been a key component of what we’re trying to do in the kicking game for sure. It’s great to have him. His detailed approach to the mechanics of kicking, punting and snapping is great, and he’s been in their shoes. He understands becomes sometimes it’s difficult when guys who haven’t been there are telling you this is how it is and how your mental approach should be. I think he related very well to him and they respect that part of it because he’s been there.
BN: What’s it like working with Paul Chryst at his alma mater?
CH: The beauty of Coach Chryst is he hasn’t really changed through our three years at Pitt and our first spring here. You don’t see any difference in the man or the approach. I know he’s excited to be back. This is where his roots are and he has a little extra pep in his step.