Special Teams Could Once Again be Special
By Rob Ogden
Special teams is usually an area of strength for Urban Meyer-coached teams. That wasn’t the case last year in Meyer’s first season with the Buckeyes. With assistant coach Kerry Coombs now in charge of the unit, Meyer hopes an upgrade in personnel will lead to improved specials teams in 2013.
As much as the Buckeyes played around with combinations at kickoff returner last year, they could never seem to find the perfect fit.
With running back Jordan Hall back to health and the addition of a few speedy freshmen, coach Urban Meyer said they have a “plethora” of guys that can fill the role this year.
“I remember a time last year when we were looking for a returner and you couldn't find any, now there’s a fight for them,” he said.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Hall and freshman running back Dontre Wilson were the first two guys Meyer named as possible kickoff returners.
Wilson said on Sunday that he has been running with the No. 1 return team.
Coombs said Wilson is one of many that have a chance to make an impact on the return team this season.
“He's a lot of fun,” Coombs said.
“Last year, we didn't know at this time who was going to run the ball back. We didn't know what kind of guys we had. We knew we had Philly (Brown) and we knew had Devin (Smith), but right now we've got an abundance of guys in that back line that we think have the chance to score when they touch the ball.”
Junior cornerback Bradley Roby and freshman receiver James Clark are also possibilities, Meyer said. Roby, one of the fastest guys on the team, was one of the players Meyer tried at the position late last season.
One guy Meyer didn’t mention was running back Rod Smith. Smith was the Buckeyes’ most effective kickoff returner last season. His 23.17-yards-per-return average ranked fourth in the Big Ten.
As a team, however, the Buckeyes averaged 19.9 yards per kickoff return – good enough for only ninth best in the Big Ten. Ohio State didn’t return a single kickoff for a touchdown all season.
“It would be really disappointing if our return game isn't really good this year,” Meyer said. “I would grade it really poor in the kickoff return last year. Punt return was pretty good, I think we got two (touchdowns), but we expect more than that.”
Returning punts last year for the Buckeyes was receiver Corey Brown. Meyer said that Brown is again the leading candidate, but added that he has some “pressure behind him” for the job.
Brown had a touchdown return against Nebraska and Wisconsin. He also had a costly muffed punt against Michigan, leading to a Wolverines touchdown.
Photo by Dan Harker
No such competition exists at the punter position. The job belongs to Australian freshman Cameron Johnston.
The former Australian Rules player was a late addition to the team when a scholarship crunch left the Buckeyes without a true punter.
There’s no question about whether he can kick the ball, he just has to be able to adjust to the American style of play, Coombs said.
“He hasn’t played in front of 107,000 people with a bunch of people wearing shoulder pads running at him full speed wanting to kill him,” Coombs said.
“He can kick the ball legitimately as far as you want him to kick it, and he can kick it as high as you want him to kick it. ... Right now, the biggest area of growth for him has to be in kick placement. It’s gotta be where we want it, every time we want it.”
Johnston worked with ProKick Australia in order to become more accustomed to the American game. He said that experience has made the transition a smooth one so far.
“With ProKick Australia back home, we put the pads on, we’ve got the helmets, we’ve got everything there,” Johnston said.
“We simulated it back home. We don't have the size of the guys here compared to there with the program. We simulated all of that, seeing what you're doing and what's going on. There's no real issues there.”
Projected Special Teams Two-Deep
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