Moving forward, coach has his eye out for special teams players

November 11, 2008
By ODU Athletics
ODU Sports

Nov. 11, 2008

Michael Zyskowski apologized to start the interview for any drooling that might occur. He'd just been to the dentist. His mouth was numb.

We've all been there.

Had he not given an explanation, he could have said he was drooling over the prospects of coaching Old Dominion's special teams as the squad prepares for the start of football in the 2009 season.

Here are the luxuries at his disposal:

- He has an entire roster to choose from. No player has been put off limits for special teams play.

- He has a lot of coaching help. More than half the ODU coaching staff has at one time or another been in charge of special teams.

- He has a head coach who is determined to make the spread offense work at ODU and to do that is willing to recruit spread offense-type players. Those players work well in a special teams scheme.

See why Zyskowski, who also coaches the running backs, is happy?

What hasn't been seen by ODU fans at the two open scrimmages is full-on special teams play. There's a big reason.

"Since I get to pick from the roster for my punt team and my punt assault (return) team, there are a lot of guys who would be on both teams," Zyskowski said. "So what we would have is a hybrid of one team running against a hybrid of the other. And we haven't gotten to the point where we can put together a special teams scout team."

So who stands out on the special teams?

Reid Evans stands out as a possible return man because he is so good at catching punts. Nick Mayers stands out because he's shifty and elusive. Desmond Williams might be used as well.

Rule No. 1 for the punt returners: Make sure the offense gets the ball.

"Every time we receive a punt, it's a 'touch' for a skill position player," Zyskowski said. "And while it's an offensive play in many aspects, the most important thing is that, by the end of the play, we still have the ball."

Punters Drew Hareza and Jonathan Plisco have competed well. Hareza might get the edge right now, but it's close. Both have improved their times in getting rid of the ball.

"When we started, they were at 2.5 seconds, 2.7 seconds," Zyskowski said. "They were so used to high school ball, where no pressure was put on them."

The goal is to be at 2.0 or less. You know the saying "Nothing good happens after midnight?" Well, nothing good happens to punts after 2.0 seconds.

"There are two approaches to special teams," Zyskowski said. "You can just get by, or you can use them effectively. The spread offense recruits kids who are made for special teams play. If a kid racks up 100 all-purpose yards through punt returns and kickoffs, that's the equivalent of 10 first downs."

Zyskowski has targeted punts and point after attempts as the most important aspects of special teams play to work on in the present.

"They can be difference makers," he said.

By the spring game, fans should see special teams play rather than the skeleton special teams that has taken place at the two open scrimmages.

One thing Zyskowski isn't real quick to work on is kickoff returns.

"If we have to start working on kickoff returns a lot," he said, "that means we're getting scored on a lot. I hope we never have to put a lot of work into kick returns."