JONESBORO — Butch Jones views the next-to-last week of spring football as pivotal for Arkansas State, especially on special teams.
The Red Wolves held their ninth practice of spring football Tuesday. ASU will have two more practices this week and four next week, including the April 17 spring game.
Jones, ASU’s first-year head coach, said the Red Wolves are methodically improving in different areas.
“I told our football team that this is probably the most important week that we will have,” Jones said after Tuesday’s practice. “This will determine our improvement over spring. We have to continue to shore up the small details. It’s everyone about doing their job and executing it. We’re starting to get some individuals who are starting to freelance a little bit and not playing within the scheme of the offense or the defense, and that hurts you. You’re going to get the things that you deserve by your fundamentals, your details and your effort.
“This is also a big week for us in terms of the special teams game, who can we trust on special teams, and also having competitive depth across the board on special teams and really dissecting that term of winning football.”
Steve Hauser joined Jones’ staff as special teams coordinator in January. Hauser spent the last three seasons as a special teams analyst at Iowa State and his background also includes a stint working with special teams at Oklahoma State.
Jones praised Hauser’s attention to detail and fundamentals.
“I expect us to excel on special teams. We invest way too much time to not do that,” Jones said. “We have a full-time special teams coordinator in Steven Hauser, who’s done a very good job, and we invest a lot of time and energy in the practice format as well. Everywhere we’ve been, we’ve excelled on special teams and I think that’s a direct correlation to your time investment.”
Sophomore cornerback Taylon Doss, senior linebacker Fred Hervey and sophomore linebacker Dane Motley have impressed Jones with their work on special teams.
Doss’ efforts as the right end on the punt team have carried over into his play at cornerback, Jones said, where he’s also competing for playing time.
“Starters can play on two, maybe three (special teams units) at the max, so it’s an opportunity for other individuals to get seen on film,” Jones said. “A lot of times when you excel in the special teams game, that propels you to playing on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.”
Jones said senior kicker Blake Grupe has been very consistent and sophomore punter Ryan Hanson has performed well at times.
Junior wide receiver Jeff Foreman, who has 17 kickoff returns in his career, is out for six weeks after suffering a wrist injury. Jones said Foreman had surgery last week.
Jones said Foreman’s speed on the perimeter has been noticeably absent in recent practices, including last Saturday’s scrimmage.
In Saturday’s scrimmage, especially on offense, Jones said ASU would have eight to 10 players run a play correctly, but still not be able to execute.
“Then, from a defensive standpoint, you always ask the question what if,” he said. “There were a couple of times when we had mental errors on the back end of our defense and we were able to generate a sack, and everybody gets excited. Well, you can’t pay attention at times to the results. What if we wouldn’t have been able to get that sack? It would have been an explosive play.
“Then like we spoke about after the scrimmage, the catastrophic plays, extending the ball at the goal line, fumbling the ball twice in meshes, particularly in the red area. We took a sack on first and 10 in the low red (zone), we took a sack on first and 10 in the two-minute drill. All those things are catastrophic mistakes, and we made our share of them, things that will cost you football games, but the great thing is you want them to occur in practice because those are great teaching opportunities.”