Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Hokie Football: Beamer's Special Thoughts

Here's hoping we don't see this sight too often, or better yet, any at all, in 2006.

While skimming through the pages of today's sports section in the Daily Press (Hampton, Virginia's local newspaper to which I frequently refer to), I was quick to discover the following article on Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, written by veteran sportswriter David Teel, one of the paper's premiere staff members who regularly contributes pieces covering the Hokies.

In the write-up, Teel illustrates Beamer's preseason concerns with VT's special teams, particularly in regards to the talents of kickers Brandon Pace and Jared Develli, by saying:
"I want to make it clear," Beamer said. "I think we've got to get better in the kicking game."
To be honest, Beamer's remark comes off as a bit of a surprise, seeing as Tech's kicking game features two of the conference's best in Pace and Develli, who are both coming off stellar years with impressive season statistics that Teel specifically points out later in his writing.
"...Develli produced 29 touchbacks in 64 kickoffs; (while) Pace made 19 of 22 field goals and scored a school-record 108 points, this after a first-team all-conference season in 2004."
Beamer's concerns aside, after witnessing Tech's special teams have a solid 2005 season, I can't really picture the strengths of that unit, the kicking and punting game in particular, falling off much at all, seeing as both Pace and Develli, as well as one hoss of a man in punter Nic Schmitt are all returning, and shouldn't be too hesitant in getting back to business from where they left off.

Following what Frank had to say, I see the scenario as this: At this point and time, with only a month remaining before Virginia Tech's season opener, Beamer is trying to inspire and motivate his special teams to stay focused in their preseason training and work harder than ever prior to September's opening kickoff, thus reiterating their importance to the team in the process.

One of Beamer's main claims to fame was his personal connection to the success of his special teams, whose game-breaking performances over the years garnered huge attention for the program. With the unit's style and success becoming so recognized, there success went as far as to even have a specific nickname coined after them in BeamerBall.

Back to Beamer's comments though, ultimately, there shouldn't be any real worry for Hokie fans about Beamer and his ranting, seeing as he has also been notorious for being a perfectionist when it comes to Hokie special teams, seeing as he has taken on the sole title of special teams coach and views their performance as a direct reflection upon himself.

All that being said, here's what Teel had to say, you can take a look at the article in its original state here, or read below.
Beamer's worries special
by David Teel, Daily Press
August 2, 2006

Virginia Tech football faithful, not to mention coach Frank Beamer, know their list of preseason concerns by heart: inexperience at quarterback, tight end and guard; lack of depth at tailback, linebacker and the defensive line.

But as the Hokies await Friday's opening practice, Beamer raises another issue.

"I want to make it clear," he said. "I think we've got to get better in the kicking game."

Huh? Beamer bemoaning his special teams? That's like Exxon Mobil carping about its second-quarter profit ($7.64 billion, but who's counting?).

If there's been one constant during the Beamer era, poised for its 20th season, a top-shelf kicking game is it.

"That's the part of college football that (Beamer) put as much emphasis on, and brought to the forefront, as anybody," Boston College coach Tom O'Brien said. "Everybody would give lip service to it, but (he) actually made it work."

So well that the Hokies blocked 62 kicks during the 1990s, more than any other Division I-A program. So well that kick returners such as Andre Davis and DeAngelo Hall, and placekickers such as Shayne Graham and Brandon Pace, have orchestrated many a victory.

Moreover, Tech boasts what Beamer considers the best group of kickers he's coached: punter Nic Schmitt, kickoff specialist Jared Develli and Pace. Schmitt averaged 43.2 yards per punt last season and placed 15 punts inside the 20-yard line; Develli produced 29 touchbacks in 64 kickoffs; Pace made 19 of 22 field goals and scored a school-record 108 points, this after a first-team all-conference season in 2004.

Still, Beamer's not happy. Not happy with coverages and returns. Not happy with a decline in blocked kicks.

Nor should he be. The Hokies haven't returned a kickoff or punt for a touchdown in either of the last two seasons, and last year they ranked 88th nationally in kickoff returns, 62nd in punt returns. Their third-quarter meltdown in the ACC championship game began when Florida State's Willie Reid scored on an 83-yard punt return.

Most worrisome, blocked kicks, the staple of Beamerball, have slowed to a relative trickle. Last season the Hokies blocked two field goals and a punt, matching the second-lowest total of Beamer's tenure. In the last three seasons, Tech has blocked 11 kicks; in the previous three seasons the Hokies blocked 22.

"We've been back there ... and haven't quite gotten them blocked," Beamer said.

Only one player on this season's roster has blocked a kick in a college game. Sophomore cornerback Macho Harris deflected a punt in the 2005 regular-season finale against North Carolina.

Have opponents finally caught on to Beamer's special-teams legerdemain? He doesn't believe so. "We've just got to perform," he said.

More so because with new starters at quarterback (either Sean Glennon, Cory Holt or Ike Whitaker), guard (some combination of Nick Marshman, Sergio Render and Ryan Shuman) and tight end (Sam Wheeler), Tech's offense may stagger out of the gate. If the kicking game can generate touchdowns and/or good field position, the untested offense can afford some missteps.

The critical early test will come at North Carolina in the season's second week. The Tar Heels won three of four home conference games last year, and in 2004 extended the visiting Hokies until the final horn before losing 27-24. That game turned dicey when UNC blocked a Vinnie Burns punt for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

"In the last 10 years I think one of the biggest changes in college football is that people have concentrated on special teams much more," Beamer said. "I mean everyone. Ten years ago you had a chance to get a little advantage on people because maybe they didn't emphasize them as much as you did."

Virginia Tech needs that little advantage more than ever.

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