Notre Dame, IN (UHND) – Charlie Weis had planned to visit with Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer between Signing Day and the start of spring practice. A scheduling conflict didn’t allow for that meeting to take place before spring ball began last week, but on Tuesday on this past week, Weis and special teams coach Brian Polian made the trip to Blacksburg and talked special teams with one of college football’s best special teams minds.
“Oh it was wonderful. We spent a whole day,” said Weis when asked about his trip by the meida on Wednesday. “Coach Beamer made himself available to us. It was him running the clinic, not one of his assistants,” he added.
The impetus for Weis and Polian’s trek to Virginia was a special teams unit that has been anything but special in Weis’s three years in South Bend. Aside from some brilliant punt returning from Tom Zbikowski these last three seasons and Trevor Laws’s knack for blocking kicks in 2007, there hasn’t been a single other unit within the special teams group that has been consistent.
For instance, the last Notre Dame player to return a kick-off for a touchdown was Vontez Duff. He graduated in 2003 (and his kick return came during the ’02 season).
“We went through everything they did – watched tape, went over drills,” said Weis.
“For me, it was very little to do with understanding special teams,” Weis said. “It was about how to coach – his approach to getting guys to perform at a higher level of efficiency,” he added.
What Weis really was looking to find out was what Beamer’s role in the special teams coaching was. Beamer is very hands on when it comes to the special teams for Virginia Tech and that involvement was something that Weis, who is now the assistant special teams coach for Notre Dame, wanted to find more about.
“One of the things I wanted to understand was his (Beamer’s) idea of involvement – his personal involvement with special teams.”
According to Weis, Beamer was in a similar position that Weis found himself in after this season when he decided to step back away from running the offense and focus more on the team as a whole. “He sort of had a lot of the same problems I had years ago. At one time he was the defensive coordinator, then he got involved in calling plays on offense, and then he kind of moved away from both of those things – other than to throw his two cents in on everything – and became much more involved with special teams.”
Once Beamer got more involved with the special teams, the results began to speak for themselves. “His special teams didn’t really pick up the tempo until he had more direct involvement where the kids knew they were answering to the head coach,” Weis added.
Not all of the talking was just philosophical and coaching technique related though. “Oh there were x’s and o’s,” Weis said.
Weis spoke specifically about the Hokies ability to block punts. “They blocked a whole bunch of punts, but they also probably roughed the punter more times than anyone in America too.”
“There’s risk reward there. If You want to go ahead and bring it after every time, you have to be willing for everyone in the place to boo you every time you rough the punter at the same time.”
That risk, however, is something that Weis himself is comfortable taking. When asked specifically whether or not the risk of roughing the punter on a block is something he’ll want to take more, he chuckled and said, “I can see me doing that. I can definitely see me doing that.”
The beauty of Virginia Tech’s special teams prowess, though, is that they don’t have to come after every punt to be effective; and that wasn’t lost on special teams coach Brian Polian, who also made the trip with Weis.
“Whether or not they actually go to block a punt or not, whoever is punting the ball is thinking, ‘Oh my God this is Virginia Tech, they’re coming to block the punt,’ and that in and of itself has some value,” Polian told the media Saturday after Notre Dame’s open practice.
“For every punt they block or every kick they block, they force a shank or they force a hurried operation because people are worried about them; and there’s something to be said for that,” Polian added.
Polian spent the most time talking special teams with the Tech staff. Weis agreed to go over some things with the offensive coaches in exchange for the Tech staff discussing special teams. “Coach Beamer spent the morning with us. Then Coach Weis spent some time with the offense, and I went with a gentleman by the name of Coach Cavanaugh who has known my dad dating back to the Bronx – so he’s known me since I was in diapers,” said Polian.
Polian is still adjusting to his new role as the special teams coach after working with the inside linebackers last season, but this trip was very beneficial for him since he had someone he knew well to talk with. “I had a guy (Coach Cavanugh) I was familiar with and very comfortable with that I could ask any question I wanted to and we sat and watched more tape.”
While both Weis and Polian took a lot of good information back to South Bend with them, don’t expect the two to completely revamp the entire special teams unit. You’re not going to go down there and completely overhaul everything you do and say ‘Alright, all the things we believed in, we don’t believe in them anymore,’” explained Polian.
What Polian and his “assistant” will be doing, however, is finding way to incorporate what Tech does to make their units so successful into what they are already doing with Notre Dame’s special teams units.
“What you do is you go down and you see how they organize things, you see how they space things out, you take tidbits here and there, and you find a way to incorporate them into what it is you believe in and what it is you do,” Polian further added.
Having Weis directly involved with the special teams, just as Beamer is at Virginia Tech, is a good start. Both Polian and Weis noted that the players respond better when the head coach is right there in their special teams meetings and involved with them in practice every day.
Beamer has been able to get his players to buy into the importance of special teams by his direct involvement and no one can argue with the results that he’s produced in the special teams department during his time in Blacksburg.
“We just have to create that atmosphere,” said Polian before adding, “And I think we’re on our way.”
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