Western Kentucky is not only adjusting to new schemes on offense and defense this fall, but also a new way of doing things on special teams.
First-year WKU coach Bobby Petrino has been more than active when the Hilltoppers have worked on all six facets of the oft-forgotten part of the game. Whether it be punts, punt returns, field goals, extra points, kickoffs and kickoff returns, special teams coach Ricky Brumfield said Petrino is hands-on.
“Coach Petrino has a big emphasis on special teams; he has a big part in them,” he explained. “It’s coming along OK. It’s never where you want it to be. Ever. Even if you win the game and score touchdowns, it’s never where you want it to be. But it’s coming along good. We got a lot of guys fighting to be on special teams. They understand that it’s one-third of the game.”
The Tops didn’t lose much in terms of production from 2012. The dangerous return game still features Antonio Andrews (1,001 return yards, one TD) and lead blocker Tyree Robinson on kickoff returns.
Senior Hendrix Brakefield averaged 42.13 yards per punt last season, a number that would have led the Sun Belt Conference and ranked 34th in the nation had WKU punted enough times to meet the NCAA’s average minimum of 3.6 punts per game.
Sophomore walk-on Garrett Schwettman made 42-of-43 extra points in 2012 and was 10-of-13 in field goals. He’s been pushed in fall camp by true freshman Joseph Occhipinti.
“When it comes to our return game, obviously Antonio Andrews is doing a good job. We just got to get everybody to understand that we got to get him an opportunity to get the ball in his hands,” Brumfield said. “If we get an opportunity for him to get the ball in his hands, and we can protect, good things are going to happen.
“We just want to make sure that we’re aggressive. Every single time, we want to protect and cover every single kick. We want to obviously be 100 percent on every single field goal, and we just want to be dominant on special teams. They got to understand the fundamentals that we want to do and the technique that we want and the more and more we work at it, the better it’s going to be.”
A new position for Rico Brown
Rico Brown will not start in Western Kentucky’s crowded secondary this season. The Madison Southern High School product has climbed into the two-deep at cornerback this fall and will contribute on special teams.
It’s not that Brown isn’t good enough to play defensive back – he just hasn’t since high school.
“For him to come into this fall camp and be doing what he’s doing, that’s a testament on how hard he worked this summer as far as learning the plays, getting in the playbook and getting in and out of his break,” said Brumfield, who also coaches the team’s cornerbacks.
Brown, who now wears No. 28 instead of No. 4, caught 13 passes for 194 yards in 2012 – the third highest total for a wide receiver last season under former coach Willie Taggart. He redshirted in 2010 before catching 13 balls for 185 yards in 2011 as a redshirt freshman.
As a senior at MSHS, Brown made 90 tackles and picked off three passes.
“He has come along very well. Honestly, I didn’t think he was going to come along this quick from summertime to now,” Brumfield said. “In the summertime, they do drills on their own. We kind of implement some drills during the spring and say, ‘Hey, do some of these drills in the summertime,’ but they’re on their own, we’re not out there coaching them.
“From him coming over from wide receiver, he understands what routes they’re trying to run. He understands how deep a curl route is or how deep an out-route is. That’s helping him out covering-wise as well. He has an understanding of the offense and what they’re trying to do.”
Dropped pass? What dropped pass?
In 2012, Western Kentucky ran the ball 60.2 percent of the time. At Arkansas in 2011 under Petrino, the Razorbacks ran the ball 46.7 percent of the time.
Those numbers indicate WKU will be throwing it around the yard a little bit more than it’s used to, and it also means there’ll be a few more wide receivers contributing in Petrino and offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm’s offense.
The daily expectation of asking WKU’s young group of wideouts to make every catch in practice is a little unrealistic, so when a pass is dropped, it’s not something to dwell on.
“We don’t talk about it a lot, for one thing,” Petrino said. “It’s one thing you don’t talk about. It’s this time of the two-a-days of camp where guys aren’t focused and tired and don’t focus and concentrate as much as they need to.
“We just need to keep going, keep working at it, keep throwing them a bunch of balls. There’s going to be a day when we come out there and we make every catch. Then we’re going to talk a lot about that.”