Will Muschamp sits in the front row for every South Carolina special teams meeting, according to Coleman Hutzler, the group’s position coach.
“We create an identity and a buy-in,” Hutzler said on Thursday. “ … Our guys understand the importance of the battle of field position and how we can win games on special teams. They’ve seen the success in the different areas we’ve had in the past, and so it’s guys scratching and clawing for spots and playing time.”
For Hutzler, who coaches a unit composed of players for multiple positions, it’s about finding players with unique skill sets.
“We talk a lot about technique and effort,” he said. “You’ve got to want to do it. You’ve got to want to go in there and compete and do a job that you weren’t recruited to do. So the attitude and mindset is important.”
Hutzler, also the Gamecocks’ linebackers coach, spoke about that position as well when meeting with reporters.
Here are six takeaways from what Hutzler told reporters on Thursday:
1) Which players are in the mix at kick returner and punt returner (Legette?)?
Hutzler mentioned A.J. Turner, Shi Smith, Josh Vann, Rico Dowdle and Bryan Edwards as players currently in the mix to replace the departed Deebo Samuel at kick returner.
“Those guys are all really competing,” the coach said. “A.J.’s obviously been back there as an off-returner for Deebo [Samuel]. But now he gets a chance to go back there and be the guy as well.
“We haven’t named a guy yet, but we’re excited.”
The same names — sans Turner and Dowdle — were mentioned as players who will be in the mix to return punts for the Gamecocks.
“Bryan’s obviously got the most experience. Josh Vann catches it great. Shi catches it really well,” Hutzler said. “And a guy like Xavier Legette, a freshman coming in who shoot, I think was a dang quarterback and never caught a punt and now he’s back there catching punts. That tells you how good of an athlete he is.
“It’s great competition and to be able to have a couple of guys. Because a couple of years ago we punt a 250-pound tight end back there because we didn’t have anybody. It’s nice to have a couple of names.”
2) A.J. Turner is a “War Daddy”
Hutzler called the Gamecock senior, who plays all three phases of the game and said earlier this month he could play 65 percent of a single game, a “War Daddy.”
“He’s a guy that’s been a great player for us,” Hutzler said. “ … One hundred miles an hour, man, all the time. That’s why we love him.”
3) South Carolina’s linebacker unit can improve “a lot”
Hutzler was gung-ho when talking about the improvement and potential of the Gamecocks’ linebacker group.
“We understand the disappointment we had last year as a group and as a defense stopping the run, and that’s been a point of emphasis all offseason and all summer,” Hutzler said.
The coach said that Ernest Jones and T.J. Brunson would be the team’s two starting linebackers if the season started today (given a five-DB set).
4) Blocking punts leads to wins
Hutzler and Gamecock head coach Will Muschamp have studied in the past the correlation between blocking punts and winning football games. If a team blocks a punt, they say, the better chance it has to winning.
“It’s definitely a point of emphasis, a point of focus,” Hutzler said Thursday. “It’s all about identifying who those guys are. Because you can be really fast and close your eyes and turn your face and not block a punt. You’ve got to have both. You’ve got to have the speed to it and you’ve got to have the focus.”
5) Freshmen need to be Coleman Hutzler’s best friend
Hutzler said one of the easiest ways for freshmen to get on the field is to play special teams.
“I should be your number one guy,” the coach said.
6) Snapper Matt Oliveira, a transfer, has been a welcomed addition
Matt Oliveira, a transfer from Maryland, has fit in well with the Gamecocks’ special teams unit.
“Obviously, with spring, it was a struggle and unfortunately, we had the issues that we had. But bringing Matt in here, coming from the system that he came from, he came in here and he’s very comfortable with what we do,” Hutzler said. “Matt Bailey coming in behind him, that’s a great resource for him, as a freshman.
“They’re battling each other out and it’s good to have.”