Will a new approach improve LSU special teams after a disastrous season?
There’s no way around it: LSU special teams were a problem in head coach Brian Kelly’s first season. From the blocked extra point in the season-opening loss to Florida State to dropped kicks and mental gaffes, those often-overlooked units had issues throughout the year. Punt returns became such an adventure that fans understandably cheered for successful fair catches.
The Tigers’ overall roster depth did not help, but they finished 92nd in SP+, an ESPN metric that measures efficiency. The coverage teams ranked in the bottom third of the country in average punt (10. 94) and kickoff (23.
10) return yardage allowed. Usually, special teams mistakes come from the specialists themselves. But LSU’s problems weren’t at kicker, punter or long snapper.
Kelly assessed what went wrong after the season, saying he rewatched every game to diagnose issues and possible corrections. He didn’t blame special teams coordinator Brian Polian, and he didn’t find a critical error with the schemes. He thought LSU dropped the ball too much, which had plagued the Florida State and Tennessee losses in particular.
His solution was to rework how LSU coaches special teams. After Polian moved into an off-field role — he later left to become the John Carroll University athletic director — Kelly promoted defensive analyst John Jancek to outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator. Even though Jancek held the title, the other assistants took on more responsibility coaching individual special teams units with responsibilities spread amongst the staff.
For instance, offensive line coach Brad Davis oversees blocking on field goals. The staff recently underwent another shakeup when defensive line coach Jimmy Lindsey had to step away because of “a personal health matter,” Kelly said in a statement Wednesday. Jancek replaced Lindsey for the time being, and defensive analyst Bob Diaco stepped into the role of outside linebackers and special teams coach.
LSU will still use the decentralized approach. The change has to make a difference. LSU has Southeastern Conference championship and College Football Playoff aspirations, and if it wants to reach its potential, special teams can’t be a hindrance toward those goals.
It should help that LSU has 40 new players, further rebuilding the roster from the end of the Ed Orgeron era. The Tigers haven’t accumulated the overall depth of Alabama or Georgia yet, but they are in a better position than they were a year ago. One of the signees, Alabama wide receiver Aaron Anderson, could immediately become the punt returner.
With the playmaking ability he showed at Edna Karr High and obvious burst early in preseason practice, he may improve LSU’s 4. 78 yards per return last season, the second-lowest average in the SEC. LSU also brought back starters in punter Jay Bramblett, long snapper Slade Roy and kicker Damian Ramos, though Ramos has to hold off sophomore Nathan Dibert after they both struggled in the spring game.
The group was productive last season and never caused glaring concerns. .