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Volume 68, Issue 1, Monday, August 26, 2002

Sports
 

New coach revamps not-so-special teams

By Brad Sebastian
The Daily Cougar

On a muggy Wednesday afternoon at the Cougars' practice facility, the very last players to step off the field are a place kicker, a holder and a
deep snapper. After the offense and defense trot off to the showers, the three specialists work on perfecting their timing on field goals.

Attention to detail in special teams play is often the difference between winning and losing. And if new special teams coordinator Joe Robinson
gets his way, no detail will be overlooked.

"My expectations from the guys (on special teams) are to give great effort and to help us be efficient in practice," Robinson said. "So far we've
seen that effort. We're having good practices and everyone's doing their job."

Robinson was hired over the offseason to turn around a special teams unit that has been the target of much criticism over the last few seasons.
Essentially, Robinson has been given the daunting task of turning one of the team's most glaring weaknesses into a strength that will help the
team win games.

"I don't have anything to say about last season," Robinson said. "I was at Louisiana Tech. Our focus is on the next game."

The Cougars are hoping Robinson will bring a fresh approach and philosophy that will bring about improved special teams play in 2002. 

Robinson spent last season as Louisiana Tech's running backs coach and recruiting coordinator. He helped the Bulldogs win the Western
Athletic Conference, which earned them a berth in the Humanitarian Bowl. Prior to coaching in Louisiana, Robinson spent seven seasons at
Southern Mississipi.

Robinson is considered one of the top special teams coaches in the country. During his tenure at Southern Mississippi, Robinson's special
teams units ranked in the top 10 in at least one category every season he was there.

"If the guys do their job and we get them in the right places, then we'll see statistical improvement, better field position and big plays," Robinson
said. "But it really 

doesn't matter what our stats are, as long as we win games."

An immediate issue Robinson must address before Saturday's opener against Rice will be replacing last season's starting kicker Jeff
Patterson, who graduated. Sophomore Dustin Bell is likely to start, but highly-rated Justin Laird could challenge for the position.

One of the few special teams strengths last season was the performance of junior punter Jimmy McClary. In three of the last four games,
McClary averaged more than 40 yards per punt.

With a wealth of speed throughout the offense and defense, there are several capable candidates for kickoff and punt returning positions for
Robinson to choose from. Juniors Brandon Middleton and KeyKowa Bell will compete with speedy sophomore Johnny Tyson for spots at kickoff
returner. Bell and sophomores Choni Francis and Gerard Daniels will likely handle the punt returning duties.

Middleton and Daniels led the Cougars in kickoff and punt returns last season respectively.

The Cougars averaged 17.2 yards per return on kickoffs and 3.9 yards on punt returns while managing only one special teams touchdown
return in 2001.

At deep snapper, sophomore Thomas Gafford is listed as the starter. His likely backup will be fellow sophomore Corbin Mozisek.

Robinson feels he has the talent and the chemistry to create noticeable changes in special teams. While coaching the special teams requires
him to handle several aspects of the game at once, he does have a single focus.

"As long as we win, nothing else really matters," Robinson said. "As long as we beat Rice, everybody will be happy."

 Send comments to dcsports@mail.uh.edu

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