No One Pays Attention - Until Everyone Does
There is just not a whole lot of attention paid to the Specialist squad. Every season, the spin goes the same way. If you don’t get a touchdown or a first down, just kick a field goal - or punt. It’s just an automatic sort of thing - some players come out the ball is snapped, and someone kicks it. Points are on the board. The same thought train goes on for the extra points after a touchdown - sometimes so automatic that it’s often forgotten that TDs are only 6 points not 7. We just count the Point After Touchdown as a back pocket sure thing.
Then there is the stalled drive, if the range is good, it’s a 3-point walk away, right, or just punt it away flip the field and call in the D. It’s the button on the game console, push the one reserved for the FG team and get 3. Push the one reserved for the Punt team and push the opponent back. Easy stuff, right?
Well, no, it’s not so easy. Snaps go awry, the holder gets the laces wrong, the kicker is off and slicing badly, etc. Then there is the old “shank-o-potamous” that comes sideways off of a rushed/nervous punter’s foot for a piddly few yards... or the snap sails over his head into the scoop and score zone... or the punt that was supposed to drop inside the 10... bounds past the goal line for a touchback netting an entire 25 yards on the exchange.
The simple rule of special teams is that nobody much cares about specialists until they care very much. No one other than Frank Beamer, whose College Football Hall of Fame presence forever enshrines “Beamerball”, proved beyond any doubt that Special Teams are critical units, and of those critical units the core Specialists are extremely important. The Punter is the king of the football field when he’s out there. He runs the show. He can pin an opponent back for impossible yardage, or over kick his coverage and get burned. The Place Kicker determines whether or not a -4 rescue happens, a last second win, a critical PAT happens, or a team is put on the 25 instead of running it back for something big. And that all depends on this “guy”. He’s in the middle of the line of scrimmage. He’s that goofy guy who passes the ball back upside-down and backwards to either the punter or the holder. That pass has to be quick, accurate, and repeated with relentless ease... because then he’s a football player with blocking or coverage responsibilities. There were more than a few times when the guy making the tackle on the punt return was none other than Oscar Shadley the Hokies’ long serving Long Snapper.
Specialists play that quiet part, loudly. And this season that quiet is suddenly very quiet because the Oscars are gone, and there is a new competition for both Long Snapper and Place Kicker. Let’s grab the first and closes to easy evaluation, Punter.
Special Teams is Still a Secondary Coaching Position
As we have been reviewing the player roster, we’ve been beginning each group with their respective coaching trees. Since only JC Price is returning, the new coaching approach is going to be as important a point of discussion as the players themselves.
Is He a Beamerball Guy?
We’ve introduced Coach Holt, before, in the Running Backs Review. He’s also serving as the Special Teams coordinator and sat with the specialists for part of the time during the Fan Day autograph signing. He was relaxed and happy, but there is some focus there. Holt has some serious positions to fill, and the players to fill them are often not scholarship guys. There is also the quiet part of the Specialists roster that we’ll cover at the end of this article that consists of the different types of returners that are never really part of the Special Teams formal squad, but always critical in the most critical situations. Holt has two of the most challenged squads on the team to coach. The Specialists are challenged by virtue of the nature of the mostly ignored, until disaster strikes. Coaching how to deal with that pressure and coming up with good ways to cope with it will be his primary challenge, besides identifying the starting Long Snapper, Punter, and Kicker(s).
The big question will remain hung in the air. For better or worse, certain teams have certain legendary reputations and the Virginia Tech Hokies ARE Beamerball. Does this new coaching staff embrace the #25? So far it looks like that’s staying, but let’s see if the current attitude keeps up the tradition.
2022 Hokie Specialists Roster
|86||Zach Hoban||K||6' 0"||180||R-Jr.||Transfer from Rice sat out 2020 due to old transfer rules - 2021 was a trip on the pine - C-USA Honor Roll in 2019 so is a contender for #1|
|92||William Ross||K||6' 1"||202||R-Jr.||Coastal Carolina Transfer from 2019 - might be the reserves again - we shall see with the wide open competition for 2022|
|83||Kyle Lowe||K||6' 3"||192||R-So.||Did not play in either 2020 or 2021 - going to be interesting to see how he is doing|
|97||John Love||K||5' 11"||155||Fr.||Another good high school kicker with some growth and training needed probable redshirt for 2022|
|57||Vincenzo (Enzo) Anthony||LS||5' 10"||222||R-Jr.||Virginia Transfer played a couple of games in 2020 - stuck at #2 in the Depth Chart due to a Shadley blockage - possible new #1|
|99||Justin Pollock||LS||6' 2"||225||R-Jr.||Has not played on Game Day yet - competition is wide open though|
|96||Christian Epling||LS||6' 2"||185||Fr.||Epling is a natural redshirt move - still needs a good 10 to 20 pounds of muscle but the future looms|
|85||Peter Moore||P||6' 1"||207||R-So.||All-ACC - Started all 14 2021 games and 2020 Virginia tought by Oscar Bradburn cannon leg when wanted great touch when needed|
|95||Nick Veltsistas||P||6' 2"||180||R-Fr.||Word is he's pushing Moore very hard and given football may well be using that foot this season|
Long and Accurate When Needed
Without slighting anyone, the natural number one punter of the 2022 season barring any serious injuries will be Peter Moore. Moore was brought in as a Freshman to replace the four-year starter, Oscar Bradburn, and even punted in the 2020 UVA game when Bradburn went down with an injury. As good as Oscar was, there hasn’t been much in the way of looking back. Peter Moore stepped in and took over the position with grace and aplomb. He also grabbed it and kicked the tar out of it when necessary. In 2021 he led the ACC in punts exceeding 50 yards (24) and dropped the ball inside the 10 no fewer than 20 times. Moore has both power and touch - which is nearly impossible to teach and balance. He also graced us with one of the few highlight moments in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl fiasco with a convincing eight-yard run that nabbed a first down for the Hokies. Moore is unlikely to be unseated from his position atop the depth chart.
The only other punter on the roster is Nick Veltsistas who as a redshirt Freshman behind Moore didn’t make the field in 2021. Moore was that durable last season. What we are hearing, however, is that Veltsistas is taking good advantage of the new coaching and open competition for positions and is pushing Moore hard. That’s good and healthy because as durable as Moore was in 2021, it’s no guarantee that he stays healthy in 2022.
In both cases we’ll see if the punter remains the king of the special teams kicking functions by seeing who is executing the place kicking holds for the starting kicker. We don’t have a known gauge on that one and will have to see when we get to real game situations in either the last scrimmage or even the first game at ODU. We’ll be tracking that.
Sometimes One and Sometimes Two
As is often the case when a big turnover occurs, the position of Place Kicker becomes an open book - at nearly any time in the season, BTW. With the departure of the prior coaching staff, and the end of eligibility for the place kicker, John-Parker Romo, the competition is wide open for the kicking duties. As is often the case with larger collegiate rosters, though, the starting kickoff specialist might not be the field goal/PAT specialist. We’ll see if the Pry and Holt split the duties or goes with a single leg to do both kickoff and field goal duties.
Either way there are actually four kickers on the roster, but only two are likely to make the Game Day line-ups. Zach Hoban, a Rice University transfer, is presumed to be the starting kicker unless something drastic happens. He’s got solid game experience and won some serious honors for Rice in the wrap of of C-USA’s 2019 season. Most guys have the leg to kick, but do they have the cool to do it with confidence and accuracy? We’ll see, Hoban is not a guaranteed #1 in the depth chart, but he’s the odds-on favorite. William Ross, Kyle Lowe, and John Love are all in the mix. Love is a true Freshman that the staff might pocket with a redshirt if the top end competition settles on one of the upperclassmen.
There is a game with kickoffs that is a popular roll the dice sort of thing. Do you blow the ball out of the end zone for the touchback and the forced 75-yard drive? Or do you kick it shorter and make the other guy choose whether or not to gamble and lose or gain yardage on the kickoff? That’s the gamesmanship that really depends upon the players involved, and the skill of the kicker to change styles to place the ball near the goal line as bait, but also get it high enough to allow coverage. Either way, Tech’s kicking roster is a complete cypher when it comes to how that sort of game plan execution will happen. It’s going to be an interesting and wide-open competition for 2022, that’s the only guarantee, here. In any of the cases, the kicker position is pretty wide open with no guarantees being handed out, anywhere.
The unsung who prefer to remain that way because when they are noticed it’s rarely good are the Long Snappers. If they are good, they are relatively invisible. The ball comes out, on target, the ball goes up... the play is over, and everyone trots off with smiles. The point(s) go up on the board; or the ref places the ball in “drive the field” territory and no one is the wiser. Few people even have a clue as to how difficult that skill is to master. The player is actually executing a pass between his legs while looking upside down at the “target” that doesn’t exist. The only time anyone notices the long snapper is when a disaster happens and that pass blows over the head of the holder or punter... or even slightly out of the holder’s reach (that elusive target thing again). The dribble across the turf has cursed and embarrassed many a long snapper but it’s that snap for the critical three points that could win the game that ends up just off target and messes up the holder/kicker rhythm that few folks will ever know trashed the win.
The Toe of the Issue
The two most obvious contenders are both past season transfers from various teams. The presumed #1 is Vincenzo (Enzo) Anthony who comes to us a couple of seasons back from Hooville, no less. Right now, the depth projection is purely on field experience. Anthony is the guy to knock off the bubble. Both Justin Pollock and Christian Epling are working hard to do just that, but neither has game experience and Epling is a true Freshman. This is where there might be a split in duties if one is a better long snapper than the other.
Considerations for the Other Side
The Return Specialists are never listed on the Specialist roster. They probably should be, or at least noted on their position indicator, once that is determined by the staff. There will probably be four or five players from the Wide Receiver and Running Back rosters designated to return punts and kickoffs.
The functions are not identical. The skills and physicality for a kickoff returner are very different from a punt returner. In the case of the kick returner, they need to have a good deal of speed and power to stretch out the field and the coverage, but also need to be exceedingly durable because of the hit potential in a return. Kickoffs just generate more momentum in greater numbers of players than a punt with only the two gunners getting down field first, and the distance covered being less than kicks. This means you see more running backs and bigger receivers lining up around the goal line for receiving kickoffs. This season we might get a chance to see Cole Beck get a shot at running a few back since he’s been identified early on as a potential kick returner. Keshawn King and Jaylen Holston have also served in the kick return function. We’ll see how those things develop. They rarely stay the same for the entire season.
There are a number of punt returners in the mix, most of them are wide receivers or the outside running backs who also have good hands and good eyes. Punts are always the wildcard with the muff rules that have bitten the Hokies in the past, and the shorter distances being covered. There are certainly more “things” that can happen on a punt, from the routine fair catch to the exciting run back for a touchdown. Anything can happen, and more often than not those things are rudely interrupted by laundry on the field.
How many games in 2022 will depend on Special Teams Play?
This poll is closed
4 - There are several 50/50 games and those nearly always come down to field goals and field position.
3 - We are looking at close games but Beamer Ball is harder to execute every season.
Don’t know. As long as the coach doesn’t get confused and call a timeout 5 milliseconds before a blocked Field Goal for a game winning touchdown, I’m happy with routine stuff.
More than 4! This is going to be a close season, and this team’s success or failure might very well ride on the toes of two guys.
At Virginia Tech Special Teams are NOT an Afterthought
Besides the the specialists and returners, the Special Teams choices will be critical indicators of whether or not the Pry Era inherits and carries the Beamerball tradition proudly. From all indications, Pry as a Beamer and Foster student is more than happy to do so.
Next up will be the release of the Depth Chart and discussion of surprises and general outlook. Be on the alert for Episode 3 of Talking Turkey which will be out this weekend.