Virginia Tech Mid-September Special Teams Notebook

Virginia Tech has gotten off to a 2-0 due largely to the success of their special teams. Justin Fuente and special teams coordinator James Shibest spoke with the media this week including some on the Hokies’ special teams. Here are some highlights from their remarks.

Shibest Has Some Concerns About Joey Slye

Joey Slye and the Hokies’ field-goal kicking unit haven’t had the best start to the 2017 season. Slye missed a pair of field goals inside 40 yards against West Virginia while Delaware blocked a Slye field goal attempt this past Saturday.

When asked about whether he was concerned about Slye, this is what James Shibest had to say.

Shibest’s statement saying that “there’s no question” on whether he’s concerned about Slye came as a surprise but wasn’t shocking given Slye missing two field goals against WVU and the field goal unit having one blocked against Delaware. However, Shibest stood by his kicker and kicking unit while also saying that he feels he can do a better job preparing Slye mentally.

Saturday was definitely a bounce-back day for Slye outside of the blocked field goal, which has given Shibest some concerns about the blocking. However, Shibest’s “concerns” seem like a very natural reaction to these struggles and shouldn’t be seen as big of a deal as some may think it is.

Shibest still has lots of confidence in Slye and rightfully so after Slye made his first 50+ yard field goal this past Saturday and has had a track record of making a very high rate of field goals inside 40 yards.

Obviously, Shibest’s concerns will grow if the Hokies’ kicking struggles return but Joey Slye already appears to be righting the ship after a strong game against Delaware going 2-for-3 with his only miss being a blocked field goal.

Oscar Bradburn Having a Fantastic Start

Oscar Bradburn has impressed fans and coaches in his first two games, consistently flipping the field with great punts. Bradburn has shown a great leg while getting the type of hang time that has allowed opponents to only return two of Bradburn’s punts for a total of 2 yards. Unsurprisingly, Justin Fuente and James Shibest both had lots of praise for him.

“He’s done a really good job, we’re really proud of him,” Fuente said. “The first two weeks, he’s done a great job of getting the ball off, good get-off times, hanging the ball up there. We will sacrifice a little bit of yardage for hang time. It makes it a little bit easier to cover those punts.”

Bradburn has done quite well especially with getting great hang time on his punts that has made it impossible for opponents to return them. Bradburn should only see his distance improve as he continues to get to work with Ben Hilgart and the Hokies’ S&C staff.

Right now, Bradburn is already looking like one of the ACC’s best punters. Bradburn has also put up numbers that are better than what Mitchel Ludwig or AJ Hughes did. Yes, it’s still early, but Bradburn is showing the potential to be one of the best punters the Hokies have had.

Lots of Confidence for James Clark and VT’s Kick Return Units

James Clark took a knee on his only possible kick return against Delaware, but Clark impressed in the opener on kick returns averaging 31 yards per return. Unsurprisingly, that hasn’t gone overlooked by James Shibest who had plenty of praise for him and the Hokies’ kick return unit.

Shibest’s assessment of Clark is spot on as Clark has proven to be a natural kick returner. Clark has the type of elite speed that you want returning kicks while also having the smarts to make the right decisions and find the lanes that will allow him to get some extra yards or break through for a momentum-shifting return.

Clark proved against West Virginia to be a dynamic return man but as James Shibest mentioned, the kick return unit as a whole has played quite well. The Hokies’ kick return unit has done a very good job of creating holes and lanes for Clark to take advantage of and gave Clark plenty of space and time to find the best lane.

This unit has shown lots of football IQ all-around from Clark to those lined up 10 to 15 yards from the kickoff. It’s one thing to just have a fast returner that can get into holes quickly, but it becomes a nightmare when you combine that with a smart kick return unit and a natural returner with great speed and smarts.

The Unheralded Colton Taylor

Last week, Colton Taylor gained some attention as he received the honor of wearing the #25 jersey against Delaware. The Hokies’ starting long snapper barely gets any attention which is a great sign that he’s doing his job. James Shibest took some time to praise his talented long snapper.

Shibest praised Taylor’s athleticism and hustle in making himself a threat on punt coverage. Shibest also praised the job Taylor has done as the Hokies’ long snapper specifically his consistency and lack of mistakes that has kept him out of headlines since he’s done his low-profile job well.

Taylor was put on scholarship right before the 2016 season, a move that may have surprised some. However, Taylor has proven that he was plenty worthy of that scholarship and has developed into one of America’s best and most consistent long snappers.

The best long snappers often get almost no attention, and Taylor falls in that category. Taylor likely won’t receive much attention the rest of the season and if that’s the case, that’ll be a good thing on the football field.

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