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Training Camp Preview Roundtable: Special Teams

PodKatt's theme choice... camp.

Actually, training camp kind of sucks for actual football players, but the upside is it means the season's getting close. Which means it's time for some positional previews for the Tigers. We got the band back together for a series of roundtables where we talk about what we like, what we love, and what we're worried about for the 2011 season.


Billy: Okay, so how about one area of the team that appears to be in a legitimate rebuilding mode -- special teams. New coach, new punte, new kicker and relatively new return men. Given how much special teams has helped out in recent years, should we be worried?

Projected Depth Chart:


30 Junior Drew Alleman - 5'11, 183
38 Freshman James Hairston - 6'0, 200


38 Freshman Brad Wing - 6'3, 184
38 Senior D.J. Howard - 6'2,190

Kick/Punt Returners: Ron Brooks, Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu, Rueben Randle

Paul: I certainly am. How will the new system work? How will the new guys adjust? Losing someone automatic like Jasper is never something you look forward to replacing. Punting wise, Jasper helped there also. Wing has the booming leg, but can he bury punts in the corner... does he get the necessary hang time that made Helton so successful? We can only hope so. And to top it all off, we lose the most dynamic return man in LSU history.

One thing is for certain, Miles puts a major, major emphasis on special teams success. You can look at how we recruit, the copious successful fakes or just the general success of both units. It's an obvious priority to Miles. Special teams is one of those units that rarely will "win" a game for you, but often can lose one for you. We need the specialists to come out strong.

Poseur: Abso-frickin-lutely.

 One of the keys to Miles' success here has been special teams. It's not just kicking big field goals, but it's also the coverage teams. LSU consistently beat teams over the past few years in "hidden" yards. Not just returns, but net punt and net kickoff averages. Our coverage units have also been consistently outstanding. Zod was effective even when he didn't receive punts, as teams kicked away from him and directionally kicked out of bounds, resulting in shorter punts. Those yards are hard to track, but they add up.

LSU has won field position battle, and that's going to be a lot more difficult now. People underrate how important a good punter is to a team. Especially this team. Miles has always relied on his punt unit to gain him more yards than your punt units. When we exchange punts with teams, we usually pick up between 15-20 yards. And that's without getting a first down.

Also, one of the reason those fake field goals worked for Miles is because the other team was afraid we could actually hit the field goal. A reliable kicker is where those fakes start. As is having kcikers and punters who are atheltic enough to run for a first down. 

The kicking game has gone from a team strength to the team's biggest question mark. That's a big deal. 

Billy: And I can't lie -- when I heard that new Special Teams Coach Thomas McGaughey wanted to move back towards a more pro-style punt formation, I was less than enthused. I know a lot of Humanoids never got over their first impression of the shield punt formation, but Joe Robinson brought it to a completely different level from 2008-2010. LSU held just over a 5-1 edge over opponents in punt return yards, and has allowed an average of less than 5 yards per return in each of the last two seasons. Its easy to say the coverage will be fine with the athletes on hand, but that damn sure wasn't the case in 2006/2007, when punt coverage was allowing 9 and 11-yard return averages. That isn't to say using the traditional formation can't work, but clearly the coaching matters.

And you can't help but be nervous about the kickers. Nobody's seen much out of Drew Alleman, and he's following up two of the best in school history in Jasper and Colt David. Maybe it'll never be an issue. The 2003 national title team had horrible kickers. But its definitely on my mind. At least there's some competition from the true freshman Hairston.

Punter is really, really intriguing. Everybody saw Brad Wing's sick highlights, and he fits in with the big, athletic mold of punter LSU's had the last couple of seasons. And who doesn't love the idea of a crazy Australian punter? But even more interesting, is that the coaches are doing everything they can to hide him. He's even kicking right-footed (he's lefty) whenever cameras are around, like in the spring game. Any guesses on what to make of that?

Paul: I don't get the Wing thing either. But that does sound like something you'd do in two scenarios: a) It's a weakness they are very concerned about or b) They want it to remain a perceived weakness.

I do believe McGaughey was a great hire and is a true rising star in the coaching industry, though. So I'm not overly concerned with whatever system he wants to use. Any system is a good system when it's taught well.

PodKatt: It's natural to worry when coaches are mum on a subject, but I think it's just Miles & co playing it safe with all of the non-standard special teams work we do. Fakes are definitely something you want there to be the very least amount of film on, and after it was accidentally outed a few weeks ago by some auburn beat guys at camp that those tigers are working on a fake FG flip play of their own, I think it's alright to keep those cards close to the vest.

Wing's situation is interesting in that, on first glance, he is the perfect Les Miles kicker. An Australian with NFL heritage who's been playing that Calvinball-esque game of Aussie Rules for most of his life. Because of LSU's tendency to run these types of plays, I think having a punter with good hands could be a huge advantage.

Poseur: Systems are overrated, and that goes for offense, defense, or special teams. What matters is execution. If McGauhey wants to put in a new formation, I honestly don't care one way or another. He's a good coach, he knows the personnel, and I trust him to put in the right system for the player's needs. This isn't Crowton trying to shove a round peg in a square hole because square holes are awesome, dammit!

I'm worried about our young kickers, but I'm not really worried about finding a return man, and I'm certainly not worried about our coverage. Miles has prided himself on special teams, and many players have found that special teams is a way to get on the field and make a name for yourself. It wasn't that long ago that Ryan Baker was a special team missile. Now he's our top linebacker. Players get excited to play special teams for Miles, and why wouldn't you? 

Billy: That's the part that worries me. Pre-Joe Rob, special teams were pretty crappy. But hopefully McGaughey brings more to the table there than his recruiting connections.

On the return units, I'm likewise not worried. Ron Brooks has already shown he can be a solid returner, and now he's joined by Mo Claiborne, who definitely brings speed to the table. But the thought of Tyrann Mathieu on punt returns is pretty damn interesting, agree?

Paul: Mathieu is perfect for punt returner, because it's a position where you have to be fearless. I'm sure Randle will keep a role of the "sure handed" guy, but Mathieu will be fun to watch one he gets his hands on the ball.

Billy: Keeping him involved in the game is definitely a good thing any way we can do it.

Poseur: Very excited to see T Rex return punts.

Billy: On to the musical portion of our episode...

Poseur: We have an Australian punter so how can I not choose something by AC/DC? Thunderstruck!

Paul: Stairway...

Billy: Since I have very little idea what this part of the team is going to do at the moment, I'll go with Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me.