2013 Special Teams

This is the last one, I promise. Not intentionally blowing up the blog feed, but figured it's all worthwhile writing about.
Beamerball hasn't existed since about 2007. It seems that the only people who realize this are Tech fans, but the facts are there. John Graves was the last great kick blocker, and he was gone two years ago. In 2010, the only blocked kick was in the opener against Boise St. In the real days of Beamerball, the defense scored almost as much as the offense. Now, special teams is more of a liability than a strength in all phases. The return game, protection, kicking and punting have all had their share of struggles since the Orange Bowl in 2008. With some speedy return men back for 2013, will this be the year Beamerball attempts a comeback? It's not likely, but the returning players will keep special teams from being a liability.
Projected 2013 Kick Returners: Demitri Knowles, J.C. Coleman
I know some of us are scared to see J.C. Coleman's name listed at any starting position for next year, but he was actually a better return man than ball carrier. He averaged 21.6 yards per return and nearly broke a few in the Florida State game. He runs a 4.4 40, and if he can be sure to secure the ball and not fumble then he should retain his starting spot here. Knowles is a track star, and runs a sub-4.4 40. His 28 yards per kick return ranked 11th in the nation last season, and that was when he was only a redshirt freshman. He's shown he can break some long ones, as he did against UNC and Boston College. He resembles a young Dyrell Roberts in the return game, and it might not be long before teams are kicking away from him next year.
There are plenty of other players capable of returning kickoffs, including Tony Gregory, Kevin Asante, and possibly even incoming freshman Kendall Fuller, who runs a 4.5. But Gregory has only shown to be average at best, and his fumble on a return in the 2012 Sugar Bowl proved costly at the time. The third return man for 2013 could be one of a few freshmen coming off of redshirts. Joshua Stanford did not practice much at the position, but he has been timed at 4.2 in the 40, so that would be nice to have returning kicks. Chris Mangus and incoming freshman Drew Harris both returned kicks in high school and were successful, but Harris could be redshirted next year. Lastly, if coaches don't like any of the freshmen, they could try punt returner Kyshoen Jarrett at returning kickoffs, but that scenario is doubtful.
Projected 2013 Punt Returner: Kyshoen Jarrett
Maybe I'm biased, but I hate the strategy of using two punt returners. Coaches used Michael Holmes with Jarrett many times, as they did with Danny Coale and Jayron Hosley in 2011, but Hosley and Jarrett both had their big returns when they were back alone fielding punts. So if coaches were to use two returners, unfortunately Holmes would probably be the number two man. Jarrett, however, has the potential to be a great punt returner, as he sprung loose in four games last season (Pitt, Miami, Austin Peay, Bowling Green). The key to all four of those big returns he had, however, were key blocks. Looking back on each of those plays, there was at least one huge block that left Jarrett with open field in front of him. Ronny Vandyke comes to mind. I do wish we special teams unit would go after punts more often like they used to in the glory days, but with Jarrett returning, it might be worthwhile just playing the return and knock a few gunners down on the way. On another note, one player I would love to see return punts or kicks is Antone Exum. He hasn't attempted it since he got to Tech, but I watched him in high school return two kickoffs for touchdowns within 45 seconds of each other. He is good after interceptions with the ball in his hands, and it would be interesting to see if he could make things happen in the return game.
Projected 2013 Kicker: Cody Journell
This is assuming that Journell goes the entire offseason smoke-free and hits curfew every night. Journell really stepped up in 2012, hitting four fourth quarter game-winning or -tying field goals. Most of them weren't chip shots, either, as the tying kicks against Georgia Tech and Boston College were both from 41 yards out. He hit 80 percent of his kicks, including 14 of 15 inside 40 yards. His senior year should be just as good. It will be a nice comfort to have a kicker who can make field goals in the final minutes of a game. Journell will also handle kickoffs again, as he beat out then-freshman Brooks Abbott in 2012. Abbott will kickoff sometimes, but his time won't come until 2014 after Journell leaves.
Projected 2013 Punter: A.J. Hughes
Finally, a punter the team can rely on. 2011 was a disaster for the position, and it took a true freshman to rescue it from the depths of its despair. Hughes averaged over 40 yards per punt in the bowl game, and it is definitely a sign of things to come for the future. His leg will be even stronger, and as long as he can hold on to the ball when it's snapped to him (see: Clemson, Georgia Tech), he will have another strong year in 2013. Behind him is Michael Branthover, who had maybe three good punts in 2011. Hunter Windmuller redshirted last season after losing the position battle to Hughes. Let's just hope Hughes stays healthy.
As for the kick and punt blocking, it's not likely Beamer will start sending the unit charging after punts like he used to, and the kick blocking won't suddenly start blocking everything that flies. It all depends on whether Beamer wants to play the return or go for the block and chance a flag on roughing the punter, which has happened many times before (Sugar Bowl). The optimistic side is that Tech didn't allow nearly as many big returns last season, especially on kickoffs. But that was mainly due to special teams monster Alonzo Tweedy, who will be gone in 2013. Tech needs a gunner like Tweedy to be the first one down the field and be a sure tackler, maybe Kyle Fuller. Special teams overall should be improved from past season.

DISCLAIMER: Blog posts may not have been written or edited by The Key Play staff.


Just an observation.

It seems like every time we are in a situation where we need a punt block and we send the house, we get a running into the kicker penalty.

And the fact that I never really assume we will go after a kick, I mean I hope we do, I scream at the special teams to go after it, but I just expect us not to.

It's sad really. And it really just shows where this program has gone in the past few years. We have left the days of playing gritty, hard, physical, in your face football, and have turned into a team that tries to be to cute and fancy.

Going back to what I first said about running into the kicker; that just shows that the discipline and coaching of the special teams is gone. I'm not gonna say that Beamer can't coach anymore so don't think I'm implying that, I just think we've gone away from a special teams focus and don't practice it as much as we should, or as we have in the past.

As much as I would love to see changes on the offensive side of the ball, I would also love to see the refocus on special teams. Getting back to the Beamer Ball mentality would be so awesome! It was one of my favorite things about this program, but for now, Beamer Ball seems dead.

Elite players on special teams

The biggest factor in the decline of Beamerball is that Beamer no longer uses his truly elite players on special teams. Back in the Beamerball glory days he used to put the most talented players on special teams whether they were 1st team starters or not. I love that mentality but you can see both sides of it in terms of injuries.

Good post

But, I do believe Knowles registered a 4.2 not 4.4 40-yd dash.

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Yeah I didn't look up the actual number so I wrote sub-4.4

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Are you confusing JC and Holmes. I want to see JC's name penned in as a starter at both RB and KR. Of all of the backs he ran the ball the hardest game in game out. When every other back would pussy foot around he darted to the hole his body-be-damned. He easily had the most heart of all of the backs and by far had the best games. I know I did not watch every game (getting rid of Dish was a huge mistake!), but outside of the first game I do not recall him fumbling. Definitely could have missed it, but I don't recall.

in Fuller we trust

This post could have been one sentence long.

"TITLE: 2013 Special Teams

They need to be better."

I think we've become lazy - as some have said we don't use our best players on the blocking units anymore and it feels as if we've simply transitioned into focusing purely on the PK and field position game. That's NOT what Beamerball is. I sometimes wonder if it isn't Beamer's fault that the special teams has been lacking in recent years. Because, if you recall, when Beamerball was rising to prominence and getting national attention, Beamer traveled to several schools and gave clinics on special teams, showing how we did everything so well.

That then leads to ECU and other teams -- who have NO business getting by our punt protection -- blocking our kicks in crucial gametime situations.