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August 29, 2009

Trojans will use stars on special teams

Seeing Chris Galippo, Taylor Mays and Josh Pinkard running down the field and make a tackle should be a common occurrence for Trojan fans on Saturdays.

Just get used to seeing them do the same on special teams as well.

While many football teams have let special teams become the domain of freshman, walk-ons or backups, new special teams coach Brian Schneider has no qualms with putting talented starters on the field to help the Trojans.

"You want to pick your best players for every situation you're in," Schneider said. "And obviously we can't have all the starters doing all the teams all the time, but you want to kind of set a base there and really have the young guys work their way up to get some playing time. But every situation you need certain types of guys, and we're just trying to find the right fit."

Some starters, such as Pinkard and Galippo, are looking to have injury-free seasons after missing parts of the past two years. Pinkard has had two knee surgeries, and Galippo was limited with back issues. Although the snaps on special teams mean more chances to make plays, they also bring increased chances of injuries. Schneider knows the risks but realizes injuries can come at anytime on the football field.

"A football play is a football play," he said. "I've heard that my whole career, in terms of not putting great guys to go return back there (because) they'll get hurt or not putting starters on your team because they'll get hurt but a football play is a football play. As long as they're healthy and they're not run down and there are a lot of factors that go into it, but to me, I think that once you say there's no starters playing special teams, you just devalue everything you're trying to do there."

Although Pinkard has former starter Will Harris backing him up in case of injury, Galippo is being counted on to stay healthy the entire season due to a number of concerns about the depth behind him. Despite the heavy workload of being the starting middle linebacker and playing on special teams, Galippo says that there is no rep limit for him on special teams.

"I think they'll give me as much as my body can handle," Galippo said. "As long as I'm out there and healthy and flying around and not hurting, then they'll probably keep me out there. But I think they definitely want to be smart in practice, but if it were a game I think it would be a little different."

Even as starters look to be a mainstay on special teams, Clay Matthews' success as a special team standout-turned-first-round-draft-pick has many younger players fighting to take spots away from the starters. Among the younger players who Schneider has seen, one stands out in his mind.

"Jarvis Jones has really started to come on," he said. "With him kind of jumping in on the two deep, he'll be a guy and we're always looking for that and those types of guys."

With a new coach, new drills and an increased emphasis, special teams looks to be the area where the Trojans can expect to see the most improvement from last year. Schneider however, doesn't believe the successes and failures of last year have any affect on this one.

"I haven't watched too much tape (of last year)," Schneider said. "I watched the personnel really looking for what our guys are like and how they played. Every season brings something new so you just got to constantly keep evolving and get better."

Kicking Jobs Settled

It was announced Tuesday that Jordan Congdon won the battle for place kicking duties. Schneider noted that Congdon had the edge due to his consistency throughout camp.

"I think he was 36-for-39," he said. "You know high 90s percent and you know just very consistent, and he really won the job.

"I felt good with either one of them, either (Joe Houston) or Jordan, and they had a really great competition and it's still ongoing. Joe's not out of it, a lot can happen but they both made each other better."

Congdon takes over for David Buehler who had a strong leg and could attempt long field goals. At this point, it is hard to say what Congdon's range is or if another kicker will come in to attempt longer field goals.

"We'll always know what yard line we'll need to get to depending on the situation, the field, the wind, the weather, everything," Schneider said. "So we'll go at that every game and there's no staple rule for that. He can go from the mid-40s, he can get that and we'll just see. Every game will be a little different."

While placekicker was settled, head coach Pete Carroll announced one kicking job was over and another was still open.

"(Jake Harfman) is going to kick off for us," Carroll said. "The punting thing is not decided yet. We're going to go all the way through Saturday and wait."

The punting competition between Billy O'Malley and Harfman might be tilted in favor of Harfman, who has shown the stronger leg during fall camp.

"Billy's really improved from spring," said Schneider. "And Jake's getting a lot more consistent. We're going to have them keep battling away."

Schneider also pointed out that the return group was solidified as well.

"We've got Damian Williams and Joe McKnight back there for punt returns," he said. "We've got (Ronald Johnson) and C.J. Gable back there at kickoff return, and we have other guys who are very capable to get into the game and back those guys up too, so we have a really good stable of guys back there."

Although the team primarily used just one returner on punts last year, Williams and McKnight could be on the field together in certain situations.

"It (depends on) the game plan," Schneider said. "You can always put two guys back there, it all depends on what type of punter they have. You know that's all game plan stuff, you know if they (like to) directional punt out of bounds and that's definitely something we can do."



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