The offense was not the only phase of the game South Carolina State has looked to shore up for the new season.
Entering last season, special teams was considered a team strength with a pair of All-American kick returners in Darius Drummond and Stephen Murphy and the duo of placekicker/punter Nick Belcher and Will Roper providing a seamless transition from school record-holder Blake Erickson.
While Belcher apparently accomplished enough in the eyes of Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference observers to earn second-team preseason honors, the Bulldogs’ overall effort on special teams was a factor in the team’s losing record. Subpar performances in losses to Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina A&T exposed the team’s weaknesses on special teams, where it finished in the middle of the pack statistically among conference teams.
Wide receivers coach Steve Bird, who will now coach special teams, believes the pieces are already in place in terms of quality personnel. It’s just a matter of stressing the proper fundamentals.
“I see right now they (Belcher and Roper) can do all the kicks that we need and all the punts that we need,” Bird said Thursday. “They’ve got that ability. We’ve just got to get it carried over into a game. Both of them have strong legs. They understand their craft. They understand how to fix their faults which is a good thing you’ve got. I think adding (freshman Ryan) Woehlert to our mix as a long-snapper has given us a solid corps.
“The biggest thing I’ve got to do now is I’ve got to see now what we can do in a game. Can we carry this thing we’re about to have. We’re going to find out what they can do in putting them in tough situations. We have in practice situations. But now let’s see what they do under pressure and the Coastal (Carolina) game (on Aug. 31) is going to be a big test for them.”
S.C. State has used the first period in each practice as a time of “urgency” where the team reviews every facet of its special teams’ mechanisms. By simplifying all of the assignments on kickoffs, punts and returns, Bird believes this will allow the players to perform their responsibilities more freely and more effectively.
In addition, rather than focus on leading the nation in statistical categories, Bird said it’s more important to have “team players” on special teams.
“If we can lead the conference in balls downed inside the 15-yard line, if we could lead the league in kickoff returns that our opponents can’t get the football past the 15- , 20-yard line, we’re doing a great job for our defense,” he said. “Those are the kinds of numbers we’ve got to see in results. It’s not going to be national stats or conference stats. If that appears, then so be it. But let’s look at the numbers and how many times we’ve pinned somebody deep in their own territory. That’s the real mark of what our punter and kicker can do for us.”
Belcher will once again handle the field goals (6-13 last season) and punting (38.9 yards per kick), while Roper will be utilized on kickoffs and long-distance attempts.
Bird is especially excited about the kick return potential of Murphy and Drummond, who’s currently receiving treatment for an ankle injury. He believes both players are dangerous in the open field, especially when provided with sound blocking from the coverage team, and he and the coaching staff have made a point to correct their tendency last season to not fielding punts.
“That’s something we’ve really addressed with all of our return people about never letting the ball hit the ground and that’s something we’ve got to do in the games,” he said. “Right now, I’ve got to say I’ve been very pleased. We’re catching the ball; we’re sprinting to get the ball wherever it’s at. We’ve put ourselves in good position. So, again you’ve got to credit our coaching staff that’s done a good job of getting out there and teaching those fundamentals and making sure we’re good on them.”
S.C. State will hold a 7:10 a.m. practice today at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium and return for a “dress rehearsal” at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Season tickets still available
The South Carolina State University Ticket Office is accepting applications for season tickets for the 2013 football season.
Three packages are available for purchase:
- Season football package — One reserved seat for all five home games — $130.
- Football/basketball package — One reserved seat for each of the home football and basketball games — $185.
- Youth/alumni football package — One general admission seat for all home football games for the classes of 2009-13 — $100.
- Also on sale are tickets for the game against North Carolina A&T at the Georgia Dome; tickets for the Palmetto City Classic against Benedict at Williams-Brice Stadium; tickets for the Atlanta Football Classic; season parking passes ($80) and basketball season tickets ($75).
For more information, call 803-536-8579 or 1-800-298-9157.
CONWAY — Coastal Carolina would love nothing more than to see some consistency out of the secondary after seeing struggles from that unit last fall.
Junior Denzel Rice, who has seen limited action in 21 games with one start back in 2011, and redshirt-freshman Samson Baldwin, who will make his college football debut in the Aug. 31 season opener against South Carolina State, were announced as the team’s starting cornerbacks earlier this week and will have a significant say in whether that area of the defense can show improvement.
Head coach Joe Moglia and defensive coordinator Clayton Carlin said Tuesday, when the final preseason depth chart was released, they aren’t nervous about starting the year with two unproven players at such a key position, and that both have earned that opportunity with their play in practice.
But the first real test will come next week against the Bulldogs.
“There’s nothing that can simulate that first play,” Cox acknowledged. “Eyes will be big. What I’m looking for is to see how we adjust and bounce back from that play.”
Baldwin, a 5-10, 185-pound rookie out of Greenville, knows it’ll be a different experience that Saturday evening in Orangeburg. However, this is the opportunity he’s been working toward since he arrived in Conway as a preferred walk-on.
“I’m sure I’ll be nervous, but once that first ball is snapped I’ll be ready,” he said.