When a team loses three straight games, fingers are pointed. While their offense and defense have certainly contributed to CSU’s recent downfall, it’s the Rams’ special teams that might be playing the biggest role.
The Rams have struggled with their special teams the past few weeks, missing makeable field goals and giving up good field position on kickoffs. CSU most recently faltered against Utah last Saturday, giving the Utes an average starting position of the 36-yard line.
CSU head coach Steve Fairchild was particularly vocal about his disappointment with the Rams kickoff coverage so far this season and said that it’s been a point of frustration.
“It has to improve, and the only way I know how is to keep practicing hard and to take a real hard look at our schemes and our personnel,” the second year head coach said after practice on Wednesday.
Through the first six games of the 2009 season, the Rams rank last in the Mountain West Conference in kickoff coverage, giving up more than 1,800 yards in kick off returns. CSU ended the 2008 season ranked sixth in the conference.
Special teams coach Larry Lewis explained just what the Rams have to do to get better.
“We have to improve our kickoff, which I think there is a little more sense of urgency about,” he said. “We have to improve the kick height and distance. We have to continue to get better at those things. It’s progress – we continue to do it every week and we get better at it.
CSU has been dedicating a large amount of practice time this week to kickoffs, switching between kickers Ben DeLine and Chad VanderMolen. Lewis announced Wednesday that VanderMolen will likely start on kickoffs in the Rams next game while DeLine will kick field goals.
DeLine, who has made seven of 10 field goals this season, explained that overall CSU hasn’t been bad on special teams but acknowledged there is certainly room for improvement.
“We are good, but we could be better,” DeLine, a sophomore, said. “We definitely could be more successful. I know personally I missed two field goals that I should have never missed. I think that sort of plays true to the rest of the team, we’ve been doing decent but we could be doing better.”
The Rams special teams will have their hands full once again this Saturday as they face Texas Christian, a team featuring one of the nation’s best kick returners in wide receiver Jeremy Kerley. The junior is averaging more than 27-yards per return this season.
Even though Fairchild has put much emphasis on kickoff coverage this week, it’s impossible to fully know if the Rams have improved until they take the field against TCU.
“Nothing moves as fast, particularly in special teams, as it does on Saturday,” he said. “We’ve given more than enough attention to it, we’re not going to lead the nation in it, but we have to improve in a hurry.”
Assistant Sports Editor Adam Bohlmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.