Craig Naivar & 2017 Longhorn Special Teams

Craig Naivar (Joe Cook/IT)

Craig Naivar (Joe Cook/IT)

I watched an interview with special teams coordinator/safety coach Craig Naivar on Texassports.com and he had some comments worth noting about how the staff view Longhorn special teams:

– Tom Herman sits in the front row of all special teams meetings to demonstrate their importance.

– Herman is also assigned a special teams position to coach on every kicking unit. When the players see the head man on the practice field coaching and correcting in every phase of special teams like he’s a position coach, it tends to get their attention.

– The staff views special teams as a program barometer. How you cover a kick is your identity as a program. It’s a demonstration of your culture. It’s also an indicator of your attention to detail. It’s the front porch of the program.

– Special teams require a real time commitment just like defense and offense. If you talk to former players who have visited practice, they are all surprised by the amount of time dedicated to special teams.

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Special teams can be tricky to evaluate. Like a bad defensive baseball team with great pitching, a fantastic kicker and punter can cover up a lot of warts. The impact of coaching really shows up in the return and coverage units.

While we can fault the prior staff for inattention to detail, we should praise them for recruiting the types of players that should markedly improve our coverage and return teams…under different management.

In 2016, the Football Outsiders ranked Texas special teams 82nd in the country by FEI. That ranking was bolstered rather heavily by Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year Michael Dickson’s punting leg (47.4 yards per punt average).

Houston ranked 40th in FEI in 2016.

With Dickson returning, better coverage and return units and a hopeful, optimistic projection for incoming JUCO Josh Rowland, I’d expect the Longhorns to move up substantially in 2017. A move into the top third of FEI special teams rankings means more hidden yards and points and could very well be the difference between a 7-5 inaugural sputter and a 9-3 Longhorn revival.