Special Teams A Focus For Buffs During Spring
BOULDER - The University of Colorado football team has been working to improve on many facets of its game during spring ball ? and special teams is certainly no exception. After last year, the Buffaloes have really focused on developing and expanding this crucial unit.
Junior Aric Goodman returns as the Buffs' place kicker, but don't expect this season to be a repeat of last year. Although Goodman struggled, hitting 5-of-14 field goals last season, if he continues to kick as accurately as he's been doing so far this spring, the Buffs can anticipate plenty of extra points on the CU scoreboard next fall.
According to special teams coach Kent Riddle, Goodman's improved a great deal.
"For all of spring practices, he's hit about 90 percent of his kicks," Riddle said. "He's been very good when we're inside the 25-yard line. And that was a huge emphasis for us going in."
Perhaps Goodman's improvement has something to do with his new coach or the new footwork he's using. Goodman has been working with Matt Thompson in the offseason. Thompson himself learned from one of the best as he was coached by a man who worked with current Indianapolis Colts place kicker, four-time Super Bowl champion Adam Vinatieri.
After talking with his coach, Goodman decided that a change in his footwork might help improve his kicking accuracy, so he got rid of a step, changing to a two-step drop instead of a three on field goals. Just like many other kickers who have made this change, Goodman seems to be experiencing success. In the first two spring scrimmages, he nailed 11 field goals out of 15 attempts (.733) and went 6-for-7 on PATs.
"[Taking out a step] shrinks the margin of error a little bit," he said. "It's been pretty effective so far."
Sophomore Darrell Scott is one of the top running backs on the team, but he'll also be a huge factor this year for the Buffs on special teams. Scott has incredible speed and moves as a tailback, but he also has a "cannon for a leg" according to Coach Riddle. That's why he'll be trying his foot as a punter this year.
Scott is a lefty kicker, and he's been trying some of the new rugby style punts where he rolls out the pocket and kicks a line drive, making it difficult for the other team to return.
Having a speedy running back like Scott as a punter gives CU a great threat for Scott to turn around and run with it. So with Scott on the field at say 4th-and-5 or less, he can roll out with the option of running for the first down or punting.
"I'm going to try and be a playmaker," he said.
In addition, Scott's really progressed in terms of his return ability, and according to Coach Riddle: "He's doing a great job catching the ball and really hitting it with confidence."
"He's obviously got a ton of speed and power and he'll be a great weapon to have back there," Riddle said.
Another special teams force is junior wide receiver Josh Smith, who also serves as the Buffs' return man.
There are a lot of Josh Smiths involved in athletics including one on the CU Ski Team and another who plays basketball for the Atlanta Hawks. So with a very common name, football player Josh Smith tries to make himself stand out which he does both on the field and by his nickname.
Smith goes by the name "J-Fly," a title his older brothers gave him when he was little and used to dress up all flashy in their clothes and pretend he was someone famous, like P. Diddy. And Smith brought the name with him all the way to CU.
"A lot of people share my names because they're both real popular; that's why I had to convert over to 'Fly,'" Smith said. "I mean there's a lot of Smiths, but no one's 'Fly Smith.'"
While Smith originally got the nickname for his flashy clothing style, the nickname could be interpreted another way since return man Smith is hard to catch, just like a fly. He's very good in open space, which he credits to his explosiveness.
"When I get the ball, I'm straight downhill," he said.
Smith set CU's season kickoff return record last year with a 93-yard touchdown run in the Buffs' 2008 season-opener against Colorado State.
"[Josh] does a really good job of playing without fear back there," Riddle said. "He does a nice job of catching the ball and then he's got speed and he's very lucid in the open field. So all of those things combined together make him a great returner."
While the place kicker, the punter, and the return man are some of the special teams positions that get the most recognition, there are a lot of other guys on the special teams unit who work their tails off to contribute on the field too.
Coach Riddle says the Buffs have more depth in special teams this year than last. Players like junior Jimmy Smith and sophomore Markques Simas will be starting on defense and offense, respectively, but they will also be big factors for the special teams unit.
"They're out there working their tails off whether they're on the coverage team or the scout team," Riddle said.
Some other guys who are standing out, according to Riddle, are junior Jalil Brown and sophomores Travis Sandersfeld and Arthur Jaffe. Seniors Matt DiLallo and Justin Drescher are always solid special teams guys, and Riddle says both have been excelling this spring. The Buffs also have some depth in junior Bret Smith and sophomore Matt Meyer.
"We've had a really marked improvement in our coverage in general, and I think a lot of that is that we have a little bit more depth now," Riddle said. "But a lot of that's just an attitude."