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Virginia Tech Hokies 2016 Roster Preview - Special Teams

Looking at the Special Teams key players and what we have or don't have for the season. We might need to put an add in the paper for a Punter or three.

Joey Slye Lining it up
Joey Slye Lining it up
Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

"Pride and Joy", that's what Frank Beamer called his Special Teams squads.  He will probably end up in the College Football Hall of Fame with that particular name floating around some picture, somewhere.  Frank put the concept of game changing Special Teams play on the map.  People think most about blocked punts, electric punt returns, and field advantage flipping critical punting.

What few people picked up on over the final years of Coach Beamer's tenure was how all of those things began to flag.  Punt and place kick blocks came less often as more flags started to fly for personal fouls; even when contact was made with the ball.  The big kickoff challenge became more of a need to set the field at the 25 for touch backs.   Add to that the problems with kicking accuracy and a season without a punter. There was also the shyness about using starting offensive and defensive players, presumably to protect them from high risk plays that accelerated the Hokie Special Teams fade.

With the departure of Coach Beamer, and the installation of a dedicated Special Teams coach, James Shibest there looks to be some fresh air and new energy attached to reigniting the Virginia Tech Hokies' Special Teams Reputation.

Since Special Teams players are often a mixture of players from the regular offense and defense, along with some lesser experienced players put on the field for skills and speed, the actual listed roster positions for the squad are limited to Long Snapper, Place Kicker, and Punter.

Folks we have seen some thin rosters on the team, but one Punter is a disaster waiting to happen.

Mitchell Ludwig -- redshirt Junior, started off his eligibility at Tech as a kickoff specialist.  He's a converted place kicker.  Ok, that's better than being a converted Slot Receiver, but the concerns still exist.  He was kicking well at the Spring Game, but I seem to remember word more punters hanging around the roster position earlier in the year.   It will remain to be seen as to how this all will work out, and if we see one or two ‘P's appearing on the roster as we close out Fall practice and head into the season.  Punters do get plowed.  They also end up thinking they are playing football and sticking their noses into things related to stopping runbacks.  As Ludwig's stats show, he seems to think that he's an actual football player and not just a leg; between 2013 and 2014 he netted 7 tackles (solo and assist).  We all love it when kickers and punters get their noses in the pile, but that sort of action is going to be cringe inducing for Hokie Nation given the lack of any current backup.

Joey Slye -€” true Junior, and probably the primary reason why Mitchell Ludwig converted to a punter from a kickoff specialist.  Joey had 51 touchbacks out of 74 kickoffs last season.  Some of that was related to the move of the kickoff line, but most of it seems to be because #JoeyHatesFootballs so kicking it hard enough to bounce the ball off of Washington or Southgate streets seems to be a life goal.  Last season he was a semi-finalist for the Lou Groza award, and is on the watch list for the "Toe-phy" again this season.   There are two really important issues that Joey will need to concentrate on this season.  The first and most important is that he needs to improve his accuracy from the right hash mark.  I don't have those detailed numbers, but I do have a memory and that right hash bit Joey in some critical scoring opportunities.  The other issue is that like Mitchell Ludwig, Joey Slye actually plays football.  He too has 7 tackles over his two seasons.  Slye does have backup this year, as in years past, but with the potential of attracting next level attention (Fix the right hash Joey... work it like it was your life...) he needs to stay healthy for two seasons.

Michael Santamaria -€” redshirt Sophomore, Michael played in the Furman game last season, scored 3 PATs and got some kick off time.  He didn't get much more of a shot except some field time in the Purdue game since Joey Slye was super healthy.  Let's hope that he gets to do some more work on the field this season.  He's a good kicker with a solid approach, but the bench doesn't help learn about dealing with the pressure of kicking in live games.

The forgotten men of the Special Teams squads are the long snappers.  Having had to do that duty way back in the olden days, there is a special appreciation for how difficult and pressure filled it is.  Imagine spiraling a snap upside down, between your legs 8 to 10 yards with pinpoint accuracy AND get ready to block defenders to keep them out of the backfield.  The job was made easier a few years ago and it's now illegal to line a Nose Tackle directly over the long snapper's head, but 300 pounds of angry usually huge defensive lineman lined up in the A gaps are still something to be dealt with.

Colton Taylor -€” redshirt Junior, This season we have only with hard game experience at long snapper.  That's some thin 15 play experience against a scattering of teams.  Some experience is a help, but it leaves a major opportunity for the other long snappers on the roster to make an impression and get playing time.  Look for redshirt Freshmen Wright Bynum, Joe Callas, and Chaska Moon to improve their positions on the depth chart.

2016 Virginia Tech Special Teams Skill Positions:

No.

Name

Exp.

Pos.

Height

Weight

Class

90

Mitchell Ludwig

2

P

5' 11"

200

r-Jr.

46

Joey Slye

2

K

6' 1"

207

Jr.

35

Michael Santamaria

-

K

5' 8"

168

r-So.

87

Colton Taylor

1

LS

6' 1"

212

r-Jr.

89

Wright Bynum

-

LS

6' 4"

230

r-Fr.

59

Joe Callas

-

LS

6' 0"

197

r-Fr.

54

Chaska Moon

-

LS

6' 0"

249

r-Fr.

The overall impression that one gets with the Special Teams Roster and depth potential (I won't belabor a depth chart because it's relatively obvious at this point in the pre-season) is that we are one injury away from a field position nightmare.  The coaching staff seriously needs to identify punters.  (There were always soccer players and ruggers that were game for trying out for punting duties.  Where are they now?) I am not sure that "Pride and Joy" will remain the tag, or it will be retired with Coach Beamer.  No Hokie anywhere want's the emphasis on the game breaking nature of high quality special teams play to go away.

There is still nothing more exciting than a blocked punt that shortens the field to a few yards, or even scores six points, and nothing can turn a game around like an electric kickoff or punt return for six.  Just ask Miami and North Carolina State what sort of game changer those plays can be.

Special Teams needs to stay the "Pride and Joy" Squad, even if Coaches Shibest and Fuente want to put their own stamp on the name.

Next up the Pre-Season Conclusion as we head into Pro-Football Hall of Fame Weekend.

GO HOKIES!!!