Thursday, April 28, 2011

Linfield Football Spring Review: Special Teams

WC11 is hoping punt coverage teams see a lot of the back of Taylor Skore's jersey this season.
Wildcat11 wasn't going to forget about the often overlooked but a critical part of any football game...special teams.  You can have a great offense and solid defense but if you have terrible Special Teams it will eventually come back to bite you on the backside and cost you games.  How many times have you seen the momentum of a game change on a Special Teams play?  Yeah, that's why this phase of the game is vitally stressed at Linfield and the program has seen mass improvements with these teams over the past few seasons.

During the 2010 season the 'Cats saw major improvement in our coveage teams and a lot of that is due to the mass of young talent the 'Cats brought on the roster last season.  Linfield was tops in the NWC during the 2010 season in kickoff coverage and has made steady improvement over the past three years in coverage.  Linfield only gave up 17.0 yards per kickoff while giving up 18.3 in 2009 and 20.2 in 2008.  While that may not see like a huge number what that tells me that our kickoff teams didn't allow as many BIG returns during the course of the year.   The punt coverage teams also had an outstanding year in only allowing 2.3 yards a punt return and that's freaking great.  Compare that to punt coverage in 2009 (7.5 yards a return) and 2008 (10.2 yards a return) and I think you could say coverage was pretty solid last season.

As for the kicking itself the season was up and down all year long.  Now, it wasn't for the lack of talent and capability but rather the lack of experience in WC11's mind.  Our field goal kicking was only 50% on the season and we missed some key kicks in the playoffs that hurt out in UST.  What I love is the confidence in the coaching staff to run these guys out in pressure situations to make kicks and I think the experiences of last year will pay dividends this season when our kickers are in those crucial situations again.  I think all 4 kickers in the program right now have considerable strengths they bring to the position.  However, someone to has to separate themselves from the pack and establish themselves as "the guy" on punt and place kicking.  This will be a position battle to watch early next fall for sure.

With a relatively young offense in the some key positions (QB and RB), Linfield's special teams is going to be HUGE early next season and that's why Wildcat11 is paying so close attention to this group.  Every aspect of the group will need to be on the job next season in order to help this team achieve its goals.

Returning Starters

Nate Dixon, KR/CB, 5-10 180 lbs, Senior
Josh Hill, KR/RB, 5-10 190 lbs, Junior
Taylor Skore, PR/CB, 5-11 185 lbs, Senior

Steady Vets

Maika Kunioka, K, 5-5 140, Junior
Josh Repp, P/K, 5-9 165, Junior
Drew Fisher, PR/Safety, 6-2 190 lbs, Senior

Up and Coming

Josh Kay, P/K, 6-0 165 lbs, Junior
Jordan Walker, P/K, 5-8 215, Sophomore

Talkin' ball with Special Teams Coordinator Coach Brandon Hazenberg
Coach Hazenberg will be in his 3rd season in leading the 'Cats Special Teams (6th year overall)
(Wildcat11) Coach Haze, The ‘Cats had very good improvement last year with the coverage team being ranked top in the NWC in kick coverage by having a net average of 41.6 yards per kick off and 2nd in the conference in punting with 31.8 yards per punt and only allowing a 2.3 yard return per punt. There was a considerable improvement in this part of our game from 2009 to 2010. What was the difference between 2009 and 2010 and why are these coverage special teams so important to the program? Where do you see our coverage teams looking like in 2011?

(Coach Hazenberg) Well WC11, it's great to chat with you again! 2010 was an excellent year of Special Teams for our Wildcats. Our major goals as a Special Teams Unit were to create and halt momentum, execute our assignment and play with as much passion as possible. We talk in every meeting about being great for the situation and our kids did just that. Special Teams is about knowing what your TEAM needs at that moment, as doing your best to provide whatever is needed. We have a very smart and savvy group coming back and I am very excited to work with them. In no particular order lemme give a shout out to the boys we bring back. Hanna, Biege, Roby, Chopp, Anderson, Domo, Edmonds, Wright, Zarosinski, Reyes, Varnell....and that doesn't even count some of the starters that will moonlight, guys who just barely got their feet wet or freshman who are ready for their turn to get onto the field.

Special Teams starts and ends with talent....and we were much improved in 2010 in that category. The freshman class really stepped in and provided some much needed athleticism on the coverage teams. You add that mix of young guys to the returners we had and things really began to take shape. Chopp, Hanna and Robitaille made plays all over the place last season! I also think that our Kickoffs were vastly superior to those of 2009. Jordan Walker was exceptional in the latter portion of the season and has the inside track to kicking off next season. Talent and deeper kicks equaled a dangerous Hit Squad. As a team, the importance of our coverage teams is directly related to the talent pool and depth we have on our squad. Right now in my opinion, you are seeing the future of our program out there playing their tails off.

For next season, I think we have great potential as a group. We need to avoid complacency and strive to be the best we can each and every time we step on the field. I have no doubt our guys will play with the passion, will and energy of a championship level football team. KBO boys!

(WC11) Let’s talk punters. Last season Josh Repp and Jordan Walker handled the majority of punting duties. Repp came into the 2010 season as the starting punter but was lost to an off the field injury and Walker picked up the punting responsibilities late in the year. Is the competition for the punting job wide open at this point and have either Repp or Walker separated themselves during spring ball? What do you see as their strengths as punters and what are the areas do they need to improve?

(BH) The job is wide open WC11. Each punter brings some different qualities to the table, but consistency will win over at this position battle. Repp is very seasoned for a young guy. He is calm and collected at the toughest of moments. This is something you cannot teach and I feel very lucky for us to have. Heck, the kid kicked field goals for us versus UWW two seasons ago cause Kunioka got injured in warm ups! His directional kicking has been very consistent over the last two years. Walker on the other hand has a huge leg, it's just a matter of controlling the football. Each will have a chance to win out this fall. Watch out for Josh Kay as well. He is going to pick up punting as well once he finishes up his golf season at Linfield. They just qualified for Nationals last week as a team so best of luck Josh!

(WC11) Onto our kickers. Again, the job was divided up between three Wildcats throughout the season and the group had up and downs all year by going 8 of 16 in Field Goal attempts. There is no doubt talent within the group. The group has the ability to knock it down but what do you think needs to happen for this group to take the next step and become dependable weapons for this team? Are you and the staff looking for one of the kickers to take up the mantel of being the Linfield's game-in and game-out place kicker?

(BH) We just need to continue to work hard each day. We as a staff try to provide as many pressure situations for our kickers as possible. Whether it's crowd noise, people dancing or talking trash, we try to push our kickers buttons. I would love for a guy to step up and win this battle outright, but the problem is that each guy is working his tail off and they were just all so close last year. Time will tell with this question, as I am very interested to see how it plays out. Either way, we have plenty of talent in this group and we will find our guy.

(WC11) Kick and punt returners. A huge weapon for any team can be their returners and we have some solid guys back that can either return kicks or punts. At this point, are the returners solidified or is the program looking at young ‘Cats also to mix in on the return duties. Just what goes into being a great return man and how much importance does the program put into the return game?

(BH) We will always try to use a blend of youth and experience in the return game. It's a great place for a talented young guy to get some early touches. With that said, early on next year I expect our vets to take most of the catches. Skore, Fisher, Dixon and Hill will all touch the ball at some point. This is the area that our Special Teams needs to improve on the most I believe. Many times last year with Punt Return or Kick Return, our overall philosophy was don't screw it up (meaning make sure Boehme gets the ball)! This season I want our return teams to think big! Huge returns, changing of field position and touchdowns! We were very close to some big ones last year, we just need to pay attention to the small details that make the big difference.

What goes into a great return man? 3 things...and without number 1, don't expect to step on the field.

1. Great decision making
2. Great teammates
3. Vision, anticipation, creativity, fearlessness and determination!

I will leave you with this, as I shared it with our squad during fall camp last season. It is from a book on ST's and is very applicable for all of us.

"The main requirements are spirit and enthusiasm. Although spirit and enthusiasm are top requirements, many special teams players will also need a special skill that you can work to utilize. Above all, select those players who love to play and who will take pride in their special team."

Go Cats
Coach Haze

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