Spring Recap - Special Teams

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Football
2013 Spring Recap - The Special Teams
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The 2013 season got off to a bit of a snag on Signing Day when punter Johnny Townsend, who was committed to Ohio State, ended up signing with his home-state Florida Gators.

Urban Meyer had already tagged Townsend as his starting punter, and without him, he had to do some scrambling. So when spring football got underway, it was place-kicker Drew Basil who was doing the kicking as well as the punting.

It's not unheard of for one man to do both jobs. Nebraska's Brett Maher was rather successful doing both the last couple of years for the Huskers.

The concern is that a player may overwork and then fatigue as the season wears on. Special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs, who was at Cincinnati when they had one player manning both spots, has taken steps to make sure that doesn't happen.

"What you've got to do with them is put them on a pitch count, just like a reliever or starting pitcher in baseball," Coombs said.

"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. He's a talented kid. He was a great punter in high school. Very comfortable, great poise, and his operation times are outstanding."

Returning Starter: K Drew Basil (Sr.), PR Philly Brown (Sr.), KR Rod Smith (rJr.), KR Devin Smith (Jr.)

Drew Basil
Photo by Jim Davidson
Drew Basil

Drew Basil got virtually no work last season outside of extra points and kickoffs, attempting just 11 field goals all year long. If he found himself bored last season, that should change in 2013.

As far as the place-kicking, things could have gone better for Basil this spring. Not that he was bad, but there were a number of kicks that he missed that he would tell you he shouldn't. Basically, everything 45 yards and in. It wasn't many, but there were a few.

As far as the punting is concerned, with so much of spring practice taking place indoors, punts frequently ended up bouncing among the rafters in the WHAC.

It's clear that Basil still has some work to do, but getting an entire spring to prepare for the future is invaluable.

"Good not great," Coombs said, describing Basil's transition to punter and kicker.

Drew Basil
Photo by Jim Davidson
Drew Basil

"I think that's a tremendous transition. He was our backup punter last year, so it's not like Drew didn't punt every day, but there is a difference in being 'the guy', and being 'the guy in two critical areas'. I had it happen to me in Cincinnati. I had a punter get hurt in the third week of the season and the rest of the year our place-kicker became our kicker and punter. It does change the way they have to do their business. We tried to work our way through that this spring.

"I think Drew Basil has a great work ethic, I think he has all the physical tools to get the job done, and I think that he will because it's important to him. I think he wants to go down in history as one of the great combo punter/kickers in the history of Ohio State football. The reality is we don't kick very many field goals, so it's going to be something that Drew's going to be able to do. We're going to score touchdowns in the red zone, so lets go punt a little bit Drew. Increase your act."

The kickoff return game should be improved simply because it was so completely ineffective last year. There were no live kick or punt returns during the spring, so there is no proof to my statement, other than this is Ohio State and there has to be somebody on the roster who can top last season's long of 36 yards by Rod Smith.

It would be hard for the punt returns to be better than they were last season, with Philly Brown returning two for touchdowns.

Others Returning: Bradley Roby (rJr.), Jordan Hall (rSr.), Chris Fields (Sr.), Bri'onte Dunn (So.)

Bradley Roby
Photo by Jim Davidson
Bradley Roby

Bradley Roby was among the group of kick returners this spring, and Jordan Hall could be there as well. He will certainly be in the mix at punt returner, though OSU did just fine without him last year. Chris Fields is also another option who has a punt return touchdown to his credit.

The staff wants to see what Roby can do with the ball in his hands, since he does pretty well when he has it following interceptions. His value as a defender may outweigh the staff's desire for the possibility of slightly better field position, however.

Newcomers: Dontre Wilson (Fr.), Ezekiel Elliott (Fr.), James Clark (Fr.)

Ezekiel Elliott was a prolific kick returner in high school, and he is one of a couple of freshmen who could certainly get a look at returns. The coaches want explosion out of their returners, and the three players listed above could all provide that when they arrive later in the summer.

Returning kicks is just one part of the equation. Stopping the returns is the other. With the Buckeyes battling injuries this spring on defense, they weren't able to get as good a look as they would have liked. However, with all of the defensive backs that have been brought in the last two seasons, you can expect the Buckeyes to have quite a bit of speed out there covering kicks. They'll just need to make sure they can tackle as well.

"I think special teams improves based on two things," Coombs said.

"The emphasis placed on it by the head football coach, and I don't think you could have greater emphasis than we have here, and the quality of your players, and we were not a deep team last year. If you remember we played more freshmen than anybody in the country at 15 kids playing. There were times where our kickoff team and some other units had seven true freshmen on the field. Those kids are all grown up. They'll all be back and through a year of conditioning.

"The more of those kids that can grow into those roles, the better we get at special teams. We don't need to go find a bunch of fancy schemes. We need to play the guys we have and develop them better physically and coach them really hard, and I'm excited about that because we're adding a great recruiting class and those kids are all going to come in with expectations of playing special teams."

Depth Chart

Kicker
Drew Basil (6-2 210, Sr.)
Kyle Clinton (6-1 216, Jr.)

Punter
Drew Basil (6-2 210, Sr.)
Jake Russell (6-1 195, So.)
Kyle Clinton (6-1 216, Jr.)

Kick Returner

Rod Smith (6-3 238, rJr.)
Devin Smith (6-1 198, Jr.)
Bradley Roby (5-11 192, rJr.)

Punt Returner
Philly Brown (6-0 187, Sr.)
Jordan Hall (5-8 197, rSr.)
Chris Fields (6-0 200, Sr.)

Spring Links
Rod Smith ‘Totally Different Guy’ This Offseason

Ohio State’s Punting Situation Still Not Settled

Coaches Want Philly Brown to 'Turn It Up' in 2013

10 Things We Learned from Urban Meyer’s Second Spring Game

Kerry Coombs Gives Latest on OSU Special Teams

Urban Meyer Talks Punting Situation

Buckeyes Promote Coombs to Special Teams Coordinator

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