CHERUBINI CHIMES IN
Thursday, May 10, 2012
By Ron Cherubini
Pirates in search of
something truly special
One-on-One with ECU special teams and running backs coach Kirk Doll
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East Carolina special
teams and running backs
coach Kirk Doll observes
the action during spring
(ECU Media Relations photo)
Phil McNaughton is vying
for the punting job.
(ECU Media Relations photo)
Warren Harvey prepares
to launch a kick as Trent
Tignor (38) holds.
(ECU Media Relations photo)
Leach was hired at Washington State and took three East Carolina coaches
with him, ECU skipper Ruffin McNeill made not only a purposeful hire in
bringing former Pirate and long-toothed coach Kirk Doll back to
Greenville, but also may very well have brought in a missing ingredient
to the program.
ECU's new Special Teams Coordinator brings an old school approach to special
teams, one in which it is not only a privilege to earn a spot on a special
teams unit, but also where special teams are transformed from a transitional
phase of the game to a vital role. It's a concept designed around the
principle that each time a unit goes out on the field, a critical aspect of
the offense or defense accompanies the unit.
“We have some
players who are beginning to understand that special teams are the first
play of the defense when you kick the football off or when you punt, and it
is the first play of offense when you return a punt or a kickoff... and so
it is a really, really important play each time out,” said Doll, who also
coaches running backs. “So we are going to keep pounding on that with these
Article continues below the
Kirk Doll answered the call from
his alma mater this spring and returned as a key coach.
(ECU Media Relations photo)
that, like the offensive and defensive starting spots, the best players are
vying for key slots on special teams units and that injection of talent and
competition is also spurring on the younger guys, who see it as chance to
prove their worth in their respective positions on the O or D.
“I think each
special team that you are on, there is a certain culture and developing that
culture is very important,” said Doll. “It is an opportunity for a player to
show that they are a good player and that they can use all of their talents
to help the team in a vital aspect of the game.”
Lincoln Riley stated recently in
regards to the running backs, Doll’s approach to fostering competitiveness
has revved up each of the backs on this team, taking them to new levels of
play. Similarly, on special teams, Doll coach has engendered a competitive
culture for the coveted slots on the various special teams, which is
expected to lead to positive change in that aspect of the game.
comes some adjustments to the basic scheme employed at ECU which was put in
place in the spring. Doll said that the game-planning will evolve as the key
specialists lock in on the depth chart. But for now, the veteran coach is
just thankful that his boss, Coach Ruff, gave him ample time in the spring –
more than he has ever had – to put the foundation in place.
questions will be answered in the fall, Doll was kind enough to talk through
the Pirates' progress in the crucial special teams aspect of the program.
And, in doing so, he indicated the lead candidates for at least some of the
positions coming out of the spring.
questions and answers from East Carolina's special teams coach:
(BV): Looking at last season, special teams were not what we would say was a
highlight. Can you talk a little about your thoughts going into camp – based
on what you saw on film and gathered from meeting the coaches and players –
and what you saw in camp? How are you feeling having completed camp?
Kirk Doll (KD):
Basically, I know things were not where they were supposed. Honestly, I like
going in and (evaluating) everything myself. I had the chance to evaluate
the kickers and the players in the spring. There is a lot of interest and
effort by the coaches, because they know it is going to help us, all of us,
perform better and be more productive – offensively and defensively. Their
interest carries over to the players, so what we are doing right now is
evaluating the best players available for each of the teams, but not push it
to a saturation point where a guy is a starter and playing on every special
team. That is not going to happen. But, we are going to have the best guys –
whoever they are – are going to be out there. The specialists play such a
vital role so as we look at these guys, it is really exciting. You look at
the development of a guy like Warren Harvey – he had a great spring and we
are really happy to have him here. You look at Charlie Coggins, the long
snapper. He is a young man with a lot of talent and we have other
specialists here that are good, like Trent Tignor who does a good job on the
hold and is also competing with Phil McNaughton for the punting job. There
is not a clear cut leader there right now, but they each have qualities that
we like, and if we have to situate our schemes accordingly for them to be
the most productive, we’ll do that.
BV: Let me
dig a little deeper into the coverage teams. Last year the field goal unit
wasn’t bad and the punting was not horrible. What are you looking for in
coverage skills at ECU now that you are here?
Special teams, kickoff coverage… you normally use defensive players because
they have to be able to tackle. But sometimes like when I was at LSU, two of
our best kickoff guys were offensive players. Michael Clayton was a wide
receiver and Jacob Hester was a running back who came on later (in his
career). A lot of times you can have the best scheme in the world and if you
have a coverage set to cover to the left and your guy kicks the ball to the
right, well, he has stressed your coverage unit. Now, that is no excuse for
the other team to go and score every time that happens, but at the same time
you are trying to integrate the scheme and the execution. So, what I am
saying here is that the specialists themselves are what make a special teams
were with these kids for the spring camp. Did you feel you needed to come
out of camp with a depth chart set for the specialist positions?
Yes… yes. We have a starting point and we talk about things a lot in terms
of who is going where and being used how and why. Coach Ruffin McNeill was
just awesome. He gave me much more time (to work with the specialists) than
anywhere I have ever been to work for spring practice. He was very
accommodating. Not that things were bad (last year) but we did see things in
our scheme and so we were able to get our base plan in and will work on game
planning as we get closer to the game with Appalachian State.
that time with the players, are you seeing that we have the players to make
these schemes fly or are you seeing things that lead you to believe that we
may not have certain players to be highly effective in a given special teams
philosophy is that we are a vehicle for the offense and defense and as such
we don’t want to be a junk car — we want to be a race car. We want to set
the table, so to speak, in terms of field position for the offense and the
defense as well. So, this thought process has to be continually talked about
with our players. We talk about, say, the ratios of when we kick off and our
opponents start on the 20 compared to the 35 and how much the chances of the
opponent scoring go up – which is significant. Conversely, it is easier to
call a play when you are 1st-and-10 on your 35 than it is on your 15. So,
that is what I am working on in the spring. These young men are not only
trying to learn their offensive or defensive responsibilities but learn the
special teams. So I am really happy with the opportunity that Coach gave me
to work with these guys and I think they see how important it is to know
what we are doing and compete accordingly for those jobs.
isolated a few positions – place kicker with Warren Harvey, deep snapper
with Charlie Coggins and holder with Trent Tignor and also noted that the
punting job is still very much undetermined. Do you feel like the three
young men you named are top of the depth chart coming out of spring in those
Well, yeah, right now that is what I see going into fall. You never know
what is going to happen though. We have some young guys coming in at
different positions and if they can be more productive, then they are going
to get their chance, too.
terms of Warren Harvey is also vying for kick-off duties?
Yes, yes he is. You know, he has really hit the weight room with Coach
(Jeff) Connors which has helped him in terms of leg strength. Plus, they
have the new rule of kickoffs at the 35 yard line so a lot of guys are not
stressing their leg strength now. We have a couple guys that could
potentially win that kickoff job. Right now, though, Warren is that guy who
is doing well.
to punting, looking at the stats in the spring – not understanding all of
the kicking situations that Trent and Phil were put in during practices – do
you feel like between these two guys, we have the tools to punt well in
2012? From an average perspective and also from a situational perspective...
inside the 20, etc.?
Yes, I do. They were put in a couple situations where we were kicking the
ball – some would call it pooch kicking – trying to get it inside the 15, 10
yard line, and I want to say at least two, maybe three of those four punts
(spring game) were that way. A lot of time statistics are misleading in
punting. The biggest thing those two are working on, obviously, is
consistency. You know, Phil has great leg strength and he has been trying to
learn this (position) for a couple of years now and I think he has made
really good strides with it. Trent has been working hard as well. Now, Trent
is a long-lever guy, which is the kind of guys you want. Again, it is
consistency, but we have two very hard workers so I expect there will be
some back and forth this summer.
back over your career at situations like this with a couple (of) high
potential guys, do you feel confident that one of them will develop that
kind of consistency by the time the Appalachian State game rolls around?
Well, I wish I could predict it. I would like to think so because of their
work ethic. You never know what is going to happen when it comes to young
people. For example, the field goal kicker I had at San Jose State last year
ended up being the second-leading field kicker in the country and the year
before that he was on the field maybe only three of four snaps. He was a
Swedish guy who was older, but it took a little longer for the light switch
to come on. Those things you just never know. Another time I had a kicker
that I thought was great and he ended up having a mediocre season. I have
seen both ends of it. It is a different type position and psyche. The best
thing is we have a group of great young men and great students who are
dedicated and work hard to do a great job for the team.
are the return specialists looking like right now?
Return wise we have some good youngsters back there. I am kind of excited
about seeing them some more in the two-a-day practices (in the fall) and we
have some other guys coming in that have some talent as well. The great
thing about it is that there is a lot of competition and the more
competition you have the higher level each of those young men will reach.
That is kind of where we are right now.
Ron Cherubini Archives
05/10/2012 06:04 AM