If I could almost guarantee that Tom Herman will fix one area of the Texas football team, it will be the special teams.
He understands the importance, as did Darrell Royal and Fred Akers long before him.
“This is one-third of the game,” Herman said emphatically of special teams after Wednesday’s practice.
When the head coach was asked how he would feel if his team had five kicks blocked in a season — Texas had three blocked in one game against Oklahoma State — Herman answered bluntly, “Unacceptable.”
To avoid a repeat of that, Texas brought in grad transfer deep snapper Kaleb Smith from Oklahoma State, of all places, to help with protection. Herman likes the 6-3, 275-pound Smith. “He’s got more girth” than last year’s holder, 5-11, 210-pound Jak Holbrook, who likely will handle deep snaps on punts this season.
Herman could recall only one Houston punt that was tipped while he was there — by Temple, in last year’s American Athletic Conference title game — and one blocked field goal, which came in his first season there. Herman said he changed kickers in Week 3 of 2015 and the replacement, Ty Cummings, went a perfect 8 of 8. Cummings made 16 of his 20 career field goal attempts, and 6-foot-7 Australian punter Dane Roy, now a sophomore, averaged 40.6 yards a try last season.
At Houston, Herman also had a stud kick returner in Brandon Wilson, who ran back two kickoffs for touchdowns in 2015, and a strong punter returner in Demarcus Ayers, who scored on one run-back from 73 yards.
So it’s obvious how much Herman stresses that part of the game.
Herman gave his new kicker Josh Rowland high marks on Wednesday when he said, “I like him more than most kickers because he’s halfway normal.”
“He’s got a toughness to him,” said Herman, who was once a special teams coordinator at Sam Houston State.
Rowland made a high-pressure field goal kick in the low 40-yard range in practice on Wednesday after Herman ordered a bobbled snap from the holder to simulate some special teams chaos. “If he keeps making those kicks, he’s going to stay in fairly good graces.”
Michael Dickson returns as a first-team All-American after averaging 47.4 yards a punt, and Texas is auditioning a ton of candidates at punt returner like receivers Jerrod Heard, Armanti Foreman and Reggie Hemphill-Mapps and cornerback Holton Hill.
Look for big, big improvement in the special teams.
Asked if he could imagine such unfathomable disaster in the special teams phase as what befell Texas last year, Herman said cryptically, “A lot of disasters are unfathomable until they become fathomable.”
Fathom this: Texas will not have five kicks blocked this season.