Five things to know: Special teams


BATON ROUGE, La. – If you're looking for reasons why LSU could be so dominant last season despite being occasionally anemic on offense, chew on these numbers:

LSU was plus-7 yards in net punting (41-34), plus-2 in net kickoffs, kicked 11 more touchbacks than its opponents, had three kick returns for touchdowns to none for its opponents and made 89 percent of its field goals compared to 68 percent by its opponents.

It short, the Tigers absolutely dominated on special teams. If you are around the program, that is no shock, given the emphasis placed on it by Les Miles and his staff. Here are five things to know:

1. The Culture: Most coaches will lean on the cliche of special teams being 1/3 of the game. Few get their teams to buy into that notion better than Miles.

It's not unusual to see top-line players at LSU to not only compete for spots on special teams, but to embrace the role with the same vigor they'll embrace their normal position.

Take Alfred Blue, a running back who rumbled for 539 yards last year, but still embraced the role of kick coverage specialist with 14 tackles. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry, a high school stud looking to make a splash on offense, had 11 special teams tackles.

It's not hard to go back through the years and find starters like Kelvin Sheppard, a linebacker now with the Buffalo Bills, insisting on being part of coverage teams even after establishing themselves as starters.

That embracing of the coverage and return teams is an underrated part of LSU's success. The stars want in on it, not just "specialists" and backups looking for a niche.

2. Winging it: Australian-born punter Brad Wing averaged a healthy 44.4 yards a punt, but that only tells part of the story. The left-footed (but he is the rare cat who can actually get effective kicks off right-footed, too, if necessary) sophomore boomed 20 50-plus yard punts, but he wasn't just laying into them. Of his 59 punts, 27 pinned opponents inside the 20.

It's a mix of strength and finesse that made him an AP All-American as a freshman.

3. Happy returns: In recent years, LSU has had some of the nation's most dangerous return men in speedsters like Trindon Holliday, Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne.

Tyrann Mathieu continues that tradition after averaging 15.6 yards a punt return, including one for a touchdown, last season.

If Mathieu is to go from Heisman Trophy finalist to actually hoisting the trophy, it will be because he continues to progress as a returner and makes more big plays.

4. Straight and true?: For the last three years, long and short snapper Joey Crappell has been a man LSU fans never hear about. Which, of course, is good news for a snapper because the only time you hear their names is when they unleash a bad one.

Crappell's consistently solid career is over and LSU spent a scholarship on deep-snap specialist Reid Ferguson to replace him. The Georgian, rated the top deep snapper in the country coming out of high school, enrolled early and was the starter in spring practice.

But when the lights go on, will he be able to deliver the consistent snaps that allowed Wing and field goal specialist Drew Alleman (16-for-18 on field goals in 2011) to thrive?

5. Who's Next?: With Alleman headed into his senior season, LSU is after a kicker to compete with James Hairston (currently the Tigers' kickoff specialist) after Alleman's done.

LSU offered Daniel Carlson, a strong-footed 6-foot-5 kicker from Colorado Springs, Colo., after he performed well at a June camp at LSU. But Carlson recently committed to Auburn. LSU has another kicking camp July 21, so don't be surprised to hear of another offer.

The Tigers have also turned the Wing experience into an Aussie punting pipeline. Jamie Keehn, a native of Miners Rest in Australia, is a member of the 2012 signing class.