Coombs on special teams

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Last updated: 04/08/2013 1:39 PM
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Kerry Coombs Gives Latest on OSU Special Teams

By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — There were some rough moments for the Ohio State special teams last season. Be it the two blocked punts returned for touchdowns, or the 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Purdue's Akeem Hunt.

Generally, giving up a special teams touchdown means a loss, especially a blocked punt, but the Buckeyes overcame three such scores last season on their way to a 12-0 season and a Leaders Division Championship.

Fortunately for them, the blocked punts came against UAB and Penn State, two teams that the Buckeyes beat by two scores a piece. To overcome the Purdue kickoff return, however, Ohio State needed a miraculous drive by backup quarterback Kenny Guiton, as well as a two-point conversion just to get the game into overtime.

Kerry Coombs, the Ohio State cornerbacks coach and new special teams coordinator, knows that things have to change quickly, which is probably why Urban Meyer put him in charge.

It didn't take long for 2013 to get off to a rough start when punter Johnny Townsend, a verbal commitment out of Orlando, ended up signing with the Florida Gators instead of the Buckeyes. Townsend had already been tabbed by Meyer to take over for departed starter Ben Buchanan.

Drew Basil
Photo by Jim Davidson
Drew Basil

Townsend's signing with Florida put Ohio State in a situation where they had to re-evaluate what their punting options were. They immediately turned to placekicker Drew Basil, who was also a punter in high school.

Basil has handled the punting duties this spring as well, and it looks like he will handle double duty this coming season. Coombs has confidence that the senior can handle it.

"He's a talented kid," Coombs said.

"He was a great punter in high school. Very comfortable, great poise, and his operation times are outstanding. We can win with Drew Basil as the punter."

While he is confident in Basil's abilities, Coombs has been in the situation before, so he is also careful not to fatigue such an important leg.

"It happened to us down the road where our punter got hurt in the second week, and our placekicker had to do both for the remainder of the season, and he did outstanding work," Coombs said, referring to the 2009 season at the University of Cincinnati when placekicker Jacob Rogers also had to become the team's punter.

"What you've got to do with them is put them on a pitch count, just like a reliever or starting pitcher in baseball. So right now he's got a kick count every week. Right now in spring ball it's 120. He can't have more than 120 kicks. We count them, we chart them. We've got all of that stuff down."

Even though he has gone through this situation before, Coombs still wanted to reach out for advice. He checked in with Darrin Simmons, who has been the special teams coach with the Cincinnati Bengals since 2003.What he learned is that if you don't limit kickers, they won't limit themselves.

"What those guys have told me, specifically Darrin Simmons with the Bengals, is college guys over-kick," Coombs said.

"Punters and kickers do it to themselves. That's their comfort level. 'Well, I'll just keep kicking and kicking.' They don't need to do that. So I called [Simmons] and said 'What's the pitch count for this kid for this spring?' [He said] '120.' Done. That's what we're doing."

Of course, kicking is just one aspect of special teams, and Coombs still has his hands full on the coverage side as well. The Buckeyes were in the middle of the Big Ten pack last year in opponent's punt and kickoff return average. Injuries and youth hurt Ohio State's coverage teams last season, but that doesn't mean the preparation stops.

"We weren't good, and we have to be better," Coombs admitted.

"That's the mantra. And we can, because it's more effort-based than anything. It's a lot of man stuff. I've got to beat my man, I've got to do my job, I've got to grow up here. It's got to be a priority for me to do my job and be successful. And anything less than that is unacceptable."

Aside from a select few exceptions, every single player is expected to contribute on special teams. If they aren't, then it's up to those players to figure out how to get there. As Urban Meyer has said in the past, if a player wants a role on this team, they better find a role on special teams first. We saw that last season with tailback Rod Smith. The more he excelled with his special teams duties, the more carries he received on offense. That type of effort is never ignored, nor is it missed.

"We grade them everyday in special teams," Coombs said.

"Every player, every day. We post the grades. And if you're not performing, there's going to be conversations about that and why you're not doing that and why would you not embrace this role. Our expectation is that if you're a starter, you're on one of the two running teams. If you're not a starter, then you should be on all four. And if you're not, then why not? Why are you not competing to be that guy?

"Special teams have to improve and they will improve, and our kids understand that."

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