2013 Football Spring Primer: Special Teams

Geoff Burke

We have covered the offense and defense, and now it is time to focus on one area that used to be very special in Blacksburg: special teams, also known as "Beamer Ball." After a rather forgettable 2011-2012 season where special teams became a liability, the 2012-2013 season was a vast improvement. Coach Beamer's faith in freshman punter, A.J. Hughes, was well worth it, as was his to reinstate and start the Hokies' best kicker, Cody Journell. But after the big improvement from 2011-2012 to 2012-2013, what is in store for the special teams next year?

Statistical Snapshot

Categories FBS Rank
Kickoff Returns 18th
Kickoff Return Yardage Defense 94th
Net Punting 78th
Punt Returns 36th
Punt Return Yardage Defense 46th

Overview

Remember how it used to feel whenever a punter lined up for Virginia Tech, and everyone knew it was going to be a booming one? Or how about whenever they lined up to return a punt, and everyone in Lane was eagerly anticipating the block? Those days seem long gone now. Sure, folks still do the blocking wave whenever the Hokies line up for a block, but face it, that is becoming few and far-between.

In 2012, there was that blocked punt in the Austin Peay game, but that's it. Virginia Tech gave up a kickoff return for touchdown for the first time in over two hundred games, a very impressive feat, but the Hokies did return a kickoff and a punt return for touchdown.

These days, it appears that Beamer is more focused on pinning opponents deep in their own territory and trusting the defense to do their job. I am sure he learned his lesson from the ill-advised fake run/punt option against Michigan in the 2012 Sugar Bowl, but there was this crazy fake punt run against Virginia that took everybody by surprise.

Punter A.J. Hughes, as mentioned, received a scholarship because he was by far the best punter to emerge from last year's spring camp, and the most consistent. Long snapper, Joe St. Germain, also received scholarship in the offseason. Field Goal/PAT kicker, Cody Journell, was also clutch all season.

In Conclusion

Beamer's decision to switch from Brooks Abbott to Cody Journell for kickoffs paid off at the end of the season. It's not a knock on Abbott, but his kickoffs yielded on average longer returns against Virginia Tech, more than what Beamer may have desired. Hughes' ceiling is higher as he proved that he can punt consistently. Journell is not going to be dislodged from his position anytime soon. What Beamer most likely is going to focus on is shoring up the punt shield as Tech have seen several of their punts blocked in recent years. Beamer will also look at having a more consistent kickoff returns and revisit his kickoff defense strategy as well. With the new rules spotting the football at the 25 yard line after a touchback, perhaps Beamer will focus on having more touchbacks to give Foster's defense a chance to defend better.

Be on the lookout for one more spring primer article, this time focusing on the Hokies' football staff, here at Gobbler Country.

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