Q&A: The Long Column

A spin through the email:

Q: I was just wondering if you ever criticized Bobby Petrino for using first teamers (like Michael Bush) on special teams, since you criticize Steve Kragthorpe for doing it?

A: Nope. I never did. But there’s a difference. It’s one thing to use Michael Bush on the punt team when you’ve got Eric Shelton, Lionel Gates, Kolby Smith and George Stripling at the same position. It’s another thing to use him there when he’s the only running back you have.

My point this morning was not that Kragthorpe shouldn’t use first-team guys on special teams. Clearly, you have to do some of that. My question was whether it was prudent to use the ONLY EXPERIENCED wide receiver as a special teams blocker. If U of L had the kind of stacked receiver corps it has had in recent years, there would be no question. But it doesn’t. In fact, in terms of experienced guys, at the time of his injury, Long was it. Now, if he’d been returning kicks, that would’ve been one thing. But to be out there as a blocker, in a role that plenty of guys, including lesser-used receivers, ought to be able to fill, I think makes this a legitimate question.

I went out of my way to let Kragthorpe have his say. In fact, I let him have his say in this column first. I disagree. But it’s a legitimate question.

There’s clearly precedent for a player’s value to the team precluding his use on special teams. Otherwise, you’d see a lot of quarterbacks, many of whom are superior athletes, lining up for coverage duty.

Q: How can you blame Kragthorpe for a non-contact injury?

A: I don’t think I blamed him for the injury. My question had to do with using a player with unique qualifications — that is, a level that no one else on the team now has — in a position that is far less crucial. I questioned the risk-reward thinking of the move. Is that second-guessing, well, yes it is. Do I like doing it before even the first game is played, no I don’t. But you know, it’s kind of my job. Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel described this job as: “Sitting high on a hill above the battle and, when it is over, riding down to bayonet the victims.” I try to be fair. But I’m paid to write what I think.

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8 thoughts on “Q&A: The Long Column

  1. Eric, the person you should have spoken with is the special teams coach Rick Nelson. I remember when he was at UK he INSISTED on being given 1st stringers to play on his special teams. This was back during UK’s the start of the probation dark days of little depth and talent. Many 1st string UK players grumbled openly about this taxing policy, having to bust their butts on offense or defense, then not getting a break because they had to stay out there on punts or kicks. But you cannot deny the results, in Nelson’s 2nd year coaching UK’s special teams Derek Abney ran back all those kicks for touchdowns, while having top of the line players blocking for him.

  2. Comparing QB’s playing on special teams is a little disenginous itself. Most QB’s can’t run as fast as recievers or RB’s, and in gneral they don’t make for great tacklers either (ever get a kick out of watching a QB try and run someone down after throwing a pick?). You also said other people “should” be able to handle those running and blocking duties. Well what if there’s not? Given our depth this year, it’s pretty much people who have played in a lot of games and then people who have played in none. There’s not much of a middle ground. So you can either go with people who might still be learning all of the ropes to play ST, or you could go with kids who’ve been around the block a couple of times. I think most of the time you’re a good writer, but this really feels like it’s just a jab at Kragthorpe, and I can go to any UL forum for that.

  3. Coach Mark Nelson was named last week as being one of the nations best special teams coaches in a ESPN blog.They haven’t played a game yet and still the second guessing has begun. Give it a rest, it’s football.

  4. Again, I agree with playing first-teamers on special teams.I’m only questioning the logic of playing the ONLY experienced wideout on special teams. And not just in terms of this injury, but in general terms.Petrino used a lot of second- and third-stringers on special teams his first season, and they weren’t very good. He moved to first-teamers his second season, not just to improve special teams, but because he had more depth. Depth was the reason he didn’t do it in the first place.He understood, I think, that you have to sacrifice some things if you lack depth.Better a few yards on a punt return than your prime target and only proven deep threat at wideout.

  5. So Anonymous No. 2, you’re saying Pat White should be playing special teams at West Virginia?He’s fast. He’s athletic. He’s got good enough size. He’d be great on punt coverage.But he doesn’t do it. Why? He’s too important to the offense.This is not a jab at Kragthorpe. It’s a difference of opinion with Kragthorpe. One, I might add, in which I let him have his say completely, and even acknowledged it’s a reasonable approach.Just one I question.

  6. Again, I agree with playing first-teamers on special teams.I’m only questioning the logic of playing the ONLY experienced wideout on special teams. And not just in terms of this injury, but in general terms.Petrino used a lot of second- and third-stringers on special teams his first season, and they weren’t very good. He moved to first-teamers his second season, not just to improve special teams, but because he had more depth. Depth was the reason he didn’t do it in the first place.He understood, I think, that you have to sacrifice some things if you lack depth.Better a few yards on a punt return than your prime target and only proven deep threat at wideout.

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