Special Teams Unlook Door to Playing Time at OSU
By Rob Ogden
At Ohio State, the key to any coach's heart can't be found through offense or defense, but only in special teams.
Photo by Dan Harker
This key isn't hidden under a rock or slid under the doormat. The directive is clear. "If you can't cover the kickoff then you can't catch the touchdown pass," said special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs.
Three coaches answered questions on Monday, and each of them delivered the same message.
"We kind of have a rule around here that you can't play unless you're involved in special teams," coach Urban Meyer said.
"We have a philosophy that if you want to play your respective position, you have to provide some value to this team on special teams," running backs coach Stan Drayton said minutes later.
The difference between the three-star recruit that becomes an every-game starter and five-star guy that rides the bench isn't talent. It's the ability to contribute on special teams.
Fifth-year senior Chris Fields has come to this realization. Fields wasn't highly regarded out of high school and had only 11 career receptions prior to this season.
He has however, made an impact on special teams, and it's starting to translate into opportunities on offense.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"He's one of the most improved players on our team," Meyer said. "He's involved in special teams and he's really done a nice job."
Fields had just one career touchdown reception entering this season, but had two in Saturday's season opener alone.
He had only four receptions all of last season, but had a team-leading three catches on Saturday. And he knows it all goes back to special teams.
"Special teams is very critical," Fields said.
"Coach Meyer suggests if you’re going to be able to play, you have to play special teams. I’ve been playing on kick return and punt block and kick off team and I’ve been trying to get my value on the team as much as possible and everybody else knows that."
Running back Bri'onte Dunn is learning just how critical special teams really is.
Even with Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith suspended, Dunn didn't record a carry against Buffalo.
The sophomore was stuck on the sideline while Jordan Hall, Dontre Wilson, Warren Ball and Ezekiel Elliott each got into the game.
Asked why Dunn was passed over by a trio of freshmen, Drayton cited special teams.
"We have a thing around here, that all of our players are held to the standard of, if you find your way on special teams, then you can find your way on the offense or on the defensive side of the ball," he said. "Bri'onte needs to continue to compete with his teammates to find a little bit more of a role on special teams so that he gets an opportunity to play on offense. It's justified."
It's possible that no running back understands this more than Hall, who led the Buckeyes with 21 carries on Saturday.
“It is difficult to get on the field," Hall said.
"There are running backs that didn't get on the field, but coach Drayton is straight down the middle with us if there's something you're not doing. And you've got to be on special teams to carry the ball, so if you're not on special teams, you're not going to carry the ball."
The standard is the same for the defensive side of the ball.
With cornerback Bradley Roby suspended, Armani Reeves was given the start instead.
Reeves didn't earn the start through stellar cornerback play — he had previously never played more than two snaps in any game — but through special teams.
"He was a tremendous special teams player for us a year ago," Meyer said about Reeves.
Just as Reeves earned his spot through special teams, the suspended players will have to re-earn their spots the same way.
"What they do is they have to come in and earn their position back," Drayton said. "Nothing is given to these guys. Again, it starts with special teams.
"So if Carlos Hyde gets reinstated, and he can add some value to our special teams, then great. Then we'll sit there and we'll take a good look at where he stands in that running back group."
With that being said, there might not be a school in America that has as much competition to get on a special teams unit as Ohio State does.
"It’s very competitive," Fields said. "Coach runs a business that you gotta get stuff done, you’ve got to come out every day with a good day. Sometimes if you don’t have a good day, that many behind you can go right in front of you."
The ones who understand this are the ones that will make the stat sheet. Hall and Fields had four of Ohio State's five touchdowns on Saturday.
“We probably practice special teams more than anybody else in the country," Hall said. "We put a big emphasis on that. Coach Meyer puts good players on special teams, so special teams are important.”
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