CGB Pre-Season: Special Teams

TwistNHook:  I've already started practicing my GENNNNYYKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!

Are things going to change under Jeff Genyk this year?  Okanes says things are still iffy by Day 12 of Camp:

Unfortunately for the Bears, none of the kickers had much success attempting field goals from different distances. The kickers had a lot at stake — the prospects of running gassers hinged on some made field  goals. Most of them were missed. Then it was double or nothing, and most of them were missed again. The result was an extended time doing gassers at the end of practice, and making the placekickers the least popular guys on the team.

 

Also:

 

Tedford said Giorgio Tavecchio is the clear leader to handle kickoffs. Field goal duties are still up in the air.

 

The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?

Avinash:  How about we just list the ways he can be a better special teams man than his predecessor.

Kickoffs past the 15 yard line. 10 yard line would be so much to ask. That's a start.

Kicks that end up behind or ahead of the coverage (remember directional kickoffs? Disaster everytime)

If your punt return coverage recognizes a returner can field the ball after it bounces on the ground a couple of times and doesn't let Sammie Stroughter casually pick it up and stride past everyone. I like that one.




If you need your kicker to attempt a semi-illegal "stick the leg out" trick to stop the returner from running back a game-clinching touchdown.

If your punt team doesn't allow a block in its own red zone in the rivalry game down 7-0.

If your kicker needs a professional to help you out to fix your kicking motion when your ST coach couldn't catch it if he stared at the camera cross-eyed.

Giving up an 84 yard kickoff return, bobbling a punt snap and giving the ball back in the red zone, fumbling another punt to set up a chippie field goal in the BIGGEST CAL GAME OF THE DECADE.

I'm sure we can think of more. In fact this entire roundtable should just be ways Genyk would be better than his predecessor.

 

NorCalNick:  I have no reason to doubt Genyk's ability to turn things around, but I'm wondering what kind of expectations we should have for him in his first year.  Barring major kicking mechanics flaws, I doubt he can seriously improve the abilities of our triumvirate of placekickers.  But as Avi mentioned, even moderate improvements like an extra 5-10 yards on kickoffs and a few more made field goals could be the difference between winning and losing.

Kodiak:  /facepalm

You're forcing us to think about special teams?  Seriously?  Why don't you just schedule water-boarding for the next Hit Squad retreat?

It's been obvious the last several years that our kickers have been inconsistent in their development.  Sadly enough, our coverage teams have been very consistent...consistently inept and hapless in their phase of the game. 

There's finally a new sheriff in town.  By all reports, special teams is finally being coached up with regards to scheme, technique, and execution with an emphasis on attention to detail.  I like the fact that team leaders such as MikeyMo are going to play special teams...even though it also scares me to death considering our lack of experienced depth at LB.  I also like that they're rotating kickers on each day to avoid wearing out legs prematurely. 

I think we're still going to have some up and down moments with our place-kicking.  Confidence and mental toughness are the calling cards of the best field-goal kickers and that usually takes time to develop.  Even with improved coaching, our guys may be a year away from being reliable instead of merely serviceable.




I've heard that kickoffs are going 5 yards deep...I'll believe it when I see it under game conditions.  I would expect our coverage teams to be better.

I feel the best about our punt team because we have a proven guy there.  With another year of development and some better technique coaching, I'd expect Anger to return to form.

As far as returns, we have several options with speed and shiftiness.  I'd expect Sofele and Ross to be leading candidates.  Philosophically, it seems like we've previously been more concerned with ball security than with breaking off big return yardage.  It'll be interesting to see if with better blocking schemes and execution we're able to turn this into an advantage instead of simply shooting for par.

Avinash:  Well, what do we feel positive about? Anger of course. He has a great leg, although he struggled with placing the ball where he wanted it to go last year (you saw that during the USC game when he put a low one down and Damian Williams scored the back-breaker). If Genyk is good enough he should flourish.

Kodiak:  I'd agree.  I think that Anger is a lot like a great young golfer that needs to have his swing grooved.  If just told to go kick a lot, his fundamentals slip and that inconsistency translates to the games.  If he's being paced and monitored with regards to his mechanics and placement, I'd expect he'll be a game-changer in the field position battle this year.  It would be huge if Anger can bail us out from stalled drives deep within our own territory or pin the other team into tough spots.  An improvement here could be worth a win or two on its own.

Avinash:  Kicking is of course a question mark, and has been since Tom Schneider got injured. I wouldn't mind Tavecchio handling both responsibilities (he had a great Arizona game and has hit two go-ahead field goals, even if they were chippies), and I'm looking forward to see how improved he is on his kicks so that the coverage isn't always running past or having trouble identifying where the returner will receive the ball.

Kodiak:  I'd actually prefer that one kicker handle place kicks and one handle kickoffs.  None of the kickers has clearly separated themselves.  So, rather than try to practice two different styles of kicks, let's specialize and try to be at least reasonably competent.  My biggest worry here is that I think the problem with our kickers is more mental than anything.  If reports are accurate, they had the leg strength to kick it deep last year...but only in practice.  I'm not sure how you build mental toughness into a guy besides the normal maturation process that comes with age and experience.  The pessimist in me says that Tavecchio is still a year away from being solid.  He'll be improved this year with good coaching, but still have his ups and downs.  The optimist in me...should be dead by now...but I'll pretend that one good breakthrough performance could be all the confidence Georgio needs to get in rhythm and solidify our kicking game.


Kick returns should be fun with Isi handling them--he had a torcher against Washington, and I think he has the potential to take one or two to the house next season if the blocking holds up in front of him. Punt returns with Jeremy Ross will be interesting.


He's a definite athlete, but he doesn't exactly possess breakaway speed, so his gains will generally be modest if not overwhelming.

How confident are you guys in each aspect? Who would you guys like to see returning the ball? Which of the youngsters is likely to return the ball in the future?

Kodiak:  I like Isi and Ross on kick returns.  They present a contrast in styles;  Isi has some wiggle while Ross is more of a take it and go power runner.

Considering that Ross has had issues with focus and drops in the past, I'm not sure how comfortable I am with him fielding punts.  I'd love to have Allen or Clay get a shot, but I can see how the coaching staff would want them to focus on playing WR first.

TwistNHook:  Yes, Bryan Anger's continued growth is very impressive and makes me very happy.  You can see from last year he finally started to get the accolades he deserves.  He received honorable mention All-American and first team All-Pac10! 

2009 (Game-By-Game Stats): An honorable mention All-American choice according to College Football Insiders and a first-team All-Pac-10 selection, both for the first time in his career ... finished the season with a 41.5 yards per punt average to rank fourth in the Pac-10 on 69 punts, including 14 of 50+ yards and 24 that pinned opponents inside their 20-yard line ... forced opponents into 24 fair catches ... twice a College Football Performance Awards Punter Performer of the Week after games at UCLA and Arizona State, and once the Pac-10 Special Teams Player of the Week following his outing against the Bruins, when he averaged 50.0 yards on seven punts, including a season-long 72-yarder

 

 

Yellow Fever:  Honestly, I'm just happy Alamar is gone.  That has to be the quintessential example of addition by subtraction.  I also have to admit that I'm a bit confused by the reports that have Giorgio now regularly hitting the end zone - is that a technique thing?  Did he bulk up over the summer?  What was the problem before?  But then again, it doesn't really matter.  I'll just be happy to see a couple of kicks get inside the 10 every now and then, and of course Anger is one of the best returning punters in the country.


I'm moderately hopeful about our returns - we haven't had a transcendent returner since DeSean, but I think he's since proven that whatever talents he had weren't necessarily the product of the coaching that he was receiving.  So it's unclear how much credit (if any) Alamar deserved for that.  But Isi seems to have the physical attributes to be a solid returner, as does Ross.  So I'd expect them to be average at least.


NorCalNick:  For all the criticism that Alamar (justly) received, Cal usually had a pretty good return game, on both kickoffs and punts. Now, that can quite possibly be credited to the excellent skill players Cal has had over the Tedford era, but I'm willing to believe that Alamar may have coached returns well.

So as far as Genyk is concerned I'd be more than content to see Cal's returns continue performing at the level of the last few seasons. And I'd like to think that with a sudden abundance of young, speedy wide receivers that perhaps Cal isn't too far away from discovering another real talented returner.

 

TwistNHook:  It is always odd to me how people view certain coaches.  When DeSean Jackson was shaking and baking his way to being the Wizard Of Returns, nobody was saying "Alamar is a great Special Teams/Tight Ends coach!"  When Craig Stevens was drafted into the NFL, nobody was saying "Alamar is a great Tights Ends/Special Teams coach."

But when the kickers were flailing about and when Syd'Quan was fair catching after fair catching after fair catching, people were criticizing him very heavily.  And certainly the failures in the non-punting kicking game the last few years have been very frustrating.  But I wonder why people seemed so hesitant to ever give any credit to Alamar?

 

HydroTech:  You're right, Twist. When we had dj, nobody really complained about special teams. When we lost dj, people complained about special teams. 


Of course then people say our success with dj was because of his talent alone and nothing because of alamar. Which is true too but your point still stands. When things suck people will complain. When things don't suck people won't complain even if they ha previous qualms about some pre existing problem which hasn't gotten fixed.

TwistNHook:  I don't believe you can ever say that any success is from the talent of the player alone.  No player plays in a vaccuum.  And DJ for all his shakenbake had 10 blockers who had to do their job.  DJ had amazing talent, but even all the talent in the world still has to rely on the other members of his team to succeed. 

HydroTech:  I agree. Even a sliver of credit has to be given to the coach.

 

Avinash:  I object. I was complaining about special teams when Desean was wrecking it up. Because no matter how good the punt units looked at times because of guys like Jackson and Mixon, Alamar's kicking units were at best average and at worst a disaster. How many games did we blow in 2007 because Alamar couldn't fix Kay's mechanics? How many games became nail-biters in 2009 because we couldn't trust Tavecchio late with anything shorter than a field goal from inside the 10? Didn't our boy Schneider miss a 36 yarder that would've made it a 3 point game in USC 2004 (leaving us down by 6 instead of 3 on the final fateful drive)? Don't even get me started on the directional kickoff calamities.

Let's look at kickoff coverage. In terms of return yardage. 67th in 2004, 57th in 2005, 100th in 2006, 75th in 2007, 52nd in 2008, 64th in 2009. Okay, not so good, but not so bad either. Until you look at kicks and figure in net kick yardage.  (courtesy of Opinionated Sports Fan)


# kickoffs

avg net

touchbacks

opp # kickoffs

opp avg net

opp touchbacks

2007

72

38.1

4

75

37.5

2

2006

80

40.7

30

53

41.4

24

2005

72

42.2

28

52

40.4

19

2004

80

38.2

15

43

40.8

15


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total:

304

 

77

223

 

60

Avg:

76

39.8

19.25

55.75

39.7

15


Even with Marshawn, Forsett, Hawk and Best all returning kicks at various points, we barely outpaced our competion in kick returns. It got even worse the last two years--opposing offenses having an average +5 yardage over our offense is such a disadvantage.

2009: avg net 36.9, 3 touchbacks, opp avg net 41.9, 11 touchbacks
2008: avg net 36.8, 1 touchback, opp avg net 41.4, 8 touchbacks

Oh yeah, and that kicking...

 

fgm

fga

fgm 30+

fga 30+

2007

13

20

7

14

2006

15

20

10

15

2005

9

16

5

11

2004

9

17

4

11

2003

15

30

9

23

 2008/2009

            30

            45

 ?*

?*

Total:

91

148

35

74

Avg:

13.0

21.1

7

14.8

%:

 

61.49%

 

47.30%


Nailing three out of every five kicks isn't very good.

Cal ranked 98th97th39th81st52nd, and 102nd, on a year-by-year basis from 2004 to 2009.  I'm not saying I'd trade for Kai Forbath and UCLA's offense, but give me something reliable here.

I remember Tavecchio being pretty good from deep in 2008 but regressing in 2009. I'd imagine the numbers would bring it up to 50%.

Here's bigger details of his shortcomings (and where I found those tables above)--good punt units, so-so kickoff units, bad kickers. And all this was before the pretty weak 2008-2009 campaigns. Just not good enough if we want to be BCS-caliber:

Alamar was a pretty good tight ends coach. I believe that was the main reason Tedford kept him around: Garrett Cross, Craig Stevens, Cameron Morrah, Anthony Miller...he just seems to have a knack for finding and developing good talent in the offensive game, Tedford's specialty. That can't make up for his constantly below-average special teams play, a unit that cursed us in many a winnable game. I know we want to be nice to him going out the door, but 1.5 out of 3 is 50%, which is a fail about anyway you look at it.


NorCalNick:  I really hope Genyk is the next coming of Frank Beamer so that whenever Cal fans talk about special teams the discussion will stop devolving into an Alaaaaaaamaaaaar! post-traumatic Vietnam-esque flashback!

OhioBear:  I'm kind of a simple minded man when it comes to special teams.  I ask for only the following:

 
1.  A reliable field goal kicker who is automatic from about 42 yards and in, and who has a better than even chance of making attempts beyond that distance.
2.  A decent punter
3.  No turnovers on returns.  For punt returners, my requirements are simple.  Catch.  The.  Ball.  
4.  Kickoffs and coverage: let's not give the ball to the other team past the 35 yard line, K? 
5.  Punt coverage: no double digit yardage on returns
 
Do all that, and I don't give give a rat's ass if special teams scores points.  Seriously.  Sure, it's a bonus to have dangerous return guys like Desean Jackson or Frank Beamer-like kick blocking schemes.  But I simply ask that special teams not LOSE the game for us. 
 
Last year, special teams didn't give us all of the above.  On the positive side, we have Anger smash.  Great punter.  Another positive is that we don't turn the ball over on returns, generally speaking.  (SQT's punt muff in garbage time against USC is the only return game fumble lost by a punt returner I can remember.)  But the other categories are problematic.  
 
Field goals make me nervous and will continue to do so until I see that Tavecchio or D'Amato has transformed into what Tom Schneider became in 2006 (an iffy kicker who turned reliable).  But if I had to choose one thing to be different this year than last, it would be the kickoff coverage game.  Between the short kickoffs and the shoddy coverage, we were giving field position away.  I've given up on expecting touchbacks -- maybe we just don't have a consistent leg like that on our roster.  But we must find a way to at least get the kicks deeper and better covered.  If Coach Genyk can get THAT out of our special teams, then at least we can be confident that our special teams won't be a liability.
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