NEWS, NOTES &
The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
By Bethany Bradsher
Special teams in for makeover
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It was one electrifying, pivotal play.
T.J. Lee’s punt block and subsequent touchdown
against Virginia Tech has been nominated as a finalist for the Pontiac Game
Lee is one of four finalists for the AT&T
All-America Player of the Week.
The block was recognized as ESPN’s “Wild Play of
the Week” during Monday night’s Tennessee-UCLA game.
Lee's special play is also the sum total of East
Carolina's week one special teams highlight film.
Coach Skip Holtz has no wish to subtract any
credit from Lee’s clutch play in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s victory.
But he has asked the team to see it as a flash of brilliance in a fog of
“T.J.’s play was awesome,” he said. “It was a
great individual effort. I can’t say enough good things about it. Outside of
that, I thought our special teams were awful.
“We missed a field goal; we had an extra point
blocked; we had two opportunities to pooch punt and we punted them both into
the end zone; we had a kickoff return run back to the 48-yard line with a
penalty; we had a kickoff return that (we) fumbled the ball and gave it to
them on the 25 and they scored seven points; and we had another kickoff
return that we bobbled the ball and we started on the 8-yard line.
"I thought it was a
debacle of errors. I thought it was absolutely terrible, outside of one
With the West Virginia
game and the memory of what Holtz calls “the worst beating I’ve taken since
I’ve been here” fast approaching, the coaching staff is focusing on a
two-step improvement program for the special teams: intense practice and
film session to correct errors and an infusion of more experienced players
into some aspects of the special-teams units.
The latter technique is
tricky, special teams coordinator Vernon Hargreaves said, because young,
talented players must have game-day experience to progress as players, but
special teams plays are too important to use strictly as training ground.
So the coaches are trying
to strike a compromise, Holtz said, with the veterans serving as inspiration
and example to the newcomers.
“We’ve tried to take some
of these starters off the special teams and give these young guys an
opportunity to step on the field,” Holtz said. “They have talent, they have
athleticism, but they don’t do the little things the right way, and we’re
going to have to change our special teams drastically to get guys on the
field that understand how important it is, when they cross that line, the
responsibility they have to everybody else who puts that uniform on that
Lee, who was named C-USA
Special Teams Player of the Week on Monday and had 32 messages on his phone
after the game Saturday, said that he and his teammates are moving forward
with an eye on making the right plays at the right times.
“We work on it every day,
just coming out, working hard, getting the alignments,” Lee said. “As a
team, we’re going to try to go after them again.”
player who won’t be able to avoid the spotlight is Ben Ryan, the walk-on
freshman from Wingate who has become the starting placekicker in place of
the injured Ben Hartman. Ryan’s collegiate debut was mixed – he missed a
39-yard field goal and one extra point and made three other extra points –
but he feels confident that he can surpass that standard against the
“I was unusually calm,”
Ryan said of the Virginia Tech contest. “I missed that one kick. I lined up
wrong, but I can’t dwell on that. Just put that behind me, take it one kick
at a time and come out here with every kick and try to get better.
“Walking on in the
spring, Holtz gave me an opportunity that 95 percent of other Division I
schools would probably not have given a kicker. So this is a big opportunity
for me. I’m just trying to make the most of it.”
Hargreaves has already
used Lee’s play as a teaching tool for the other players who line up on his
units, as evidence that one play can transform a game.
Last year many of his
special teams standbys were older players who had a strong sense of urgency,
he said, and he is working to instill that drive in the younger players in
“It’s the whole growing
pains thing,” Hargreaves said. “We’re talented enough. Now we’ve got to keep
grinding them and keep working on the little stuff. It’s repetition and them
just taking it to heart. It’s got to be important to them.“
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09/22/2008 04:11:04 AM