Special teams play appears be neglected

By Travis Brown
STAR Staff
tbrown@starhq.com

   This season, college and professional football teams are discovering just how much it pays to be "sound in the kicking game."
   The most neglected portion of the game has been the deciding factor in a growing number of football games this season, and if coaches continue to put the kicking game last, their teams may end up in the same position.
   The casualty list of special teams victims continues to grow this year. Starters are popping up on the kicking teams and NFL clubs are putting a higher priority on the silent service.
   This being the case, what excuse do some teams have for getting beat in the kicking game? Kickers and punters have become more integral parts of the offense over the past five years, but what has caused the sudden explosion of return success.
   Kickers are missing more kicks and extra points than ever, and what used to be the occasional punt return for a touchdown is turning into an everyday occurrence.
   Looking at pro football exclusively, one can find a wealth of special team talent. The Oakland Raiders returned two punts for touchdowns against the Tennessee Titans this year in the first quarter.
   Meanwhile teams such as the Philadelphia Eagles, that until recently were solid, had 12 men on the field during a punt, and allowed the Carolina Panthers to beat them with a punt return for touchdown.
   Every coach, regardless of NFL, collegiate or high school needs to take a page from Frank Beamer's playbook. The Virginia Tech coaching guru is renowned for his kicking team's performance, not because of stellar athletes or luck, but his success lies in the approach.
   Beamer practices special teams at the first of practice, while legs are still fresh, and works on offense and defense later in the day. Beamer also patented the idea of putting starters back to catch kicks.
   It simply makes sense. If your opponent puts reserves in on the kickoffs and punts, your club can gain an advantage and take over the momentum by putting in the starters.
   This is similar to an offense attacking a rookie cornerback, or a defense blitzing a backup QB. It's just good coaching, and a growing number of coaches are learning that lesson the hard way.
   Kickers themselves have gotten worse in the process. I cannot understand how better personnel on the kicking team can result in poor performance from the kickers.
   I was a kicker in high school, and I play semi-pro ball now. I am by no means as good as the guys playing D1-A college football or any where close to NFL caliber.
   However it makes me shiver to see some of the performances that have been posted in the special teams this season.
   Keep your eyes peeled on the games this season as special teams will no doubt make a big impact on some big games this year.
   Coaches always say, "defense and special teams wins football games." Let's see who starts practicing what they preach.
   Meanwhile those who fail to fortify the kicking teams might be looking for new jobs next year.