CPJ hired a Special Teams coach...and Hell got a few degrees cooler. Whereas the Special Teams were a strength of the team in 2009 with the clutch Scott Blair and the talented Jerrard Tarrant flipping the field and maximizing scoring drives, the 2011 model proved to be an underwhelming mix of FG kicking, punting and blocking. Last year in the ACC, Tech ranked dead last in kickoff return yardage, and average-to-below average in kicking accuracy, kickoff coverage, and net punt yardage (net of punt distance and return yardage allowed)...plus one very dumb muffed punt at Miami that led to a game-changing TD. The wisdom and schemes held by Coach Mike Smith at the Falcons facility in Flowery Branch couldn't equip our team with the tools to perform any better than we had in 2010. Throughout last season, CPJ was adamant that his triumvirate of coaches Mike Sewak (FG/XP), Charles Kelly (punt/punt return), and Buzz Preston (kickoff/kickoff return) were adequate, and in fact, the commonplace method for coaching Special Teams on the FBS level. Find out what CPJ did after the jump...
Enter coach Dave Walkosky, a career college coach at Toledo, Washington State, D2 Tiffin (as Head Coach)...and most recently in the Canadian Football League. While at Toledo, his Special Teams units were among the leaders in the MAC and ranked nationally in several categories. Referred by the current ST coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Walkosky allows CPJ the ability to try something new in place of departed OL coach Todd Spencer. In Spring practice, it was reported that several changes were going to take place on the Special Teams' units, including the ability to aggressively play starters, more orchestrated and energetic drilling, and more private instruction of our kicking specialists. The fruits of these changes won't be known until the team takes the field, of course, and there is a lot to be settled until Labor Day night in Blacksburg.
So what about personnel? Justin Moore, though highly touted, proved to be inconsistent enough to eventually share placekicking duties with walk-on David Scully. This battle should continue into the Fall, and may continue to be a fluid situation. Sean Poole, who had won the punting job from the recently graduated Chandler Anderson, looks to battle newcomer true freshman Ryan Rodwell. While the job is wide open here as well, the competition has certainly increased. As the production of the Special Teams units dried up over the course of 2011, CPJ eventually went with veteran specialists (Orwin Smith, Roddy Jones, Embry Peeples, Jemea Thomas) over younger players (Tony Zenon, Deon Hill, Zach Laskey) who were inconsistent, and at times, disastrous. The truth is, we won't know until camp who emerges as our Special Teams specialists, although the overall speed and athleticism of the team has increased in recent recruiting classes.
It remains to be seen whether the Special Teams culture changes to the point where...at worst, Special Teams get the proper focus, drilling, and personnel to improve or...at best, a "Beamerball" mentality emerges where playing Special Teams becomes a highly sought-after and earned privilege and a form of team identity. CPJ, to his credit, was willing to try something new and bring a fresh, energetic face to the coaching staff.
What impact do you think Coach Walk will have on the Special Teams? Who would be your ST specialists?