ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If the subject is special teams, it’s nice to start with the returning Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Year.
For Derek Warehime, that’s all it is: a start.
Warehime, a third-year assistant football coach at the University of New Mexico, wears three hats – or is that three helmets? – on head coach Bob Davie’s staff. He coaches the tight ends, serves as running-game coordinator and, following the departure for Florida of special-teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler, assumed those duties as well.
“I’m more comfortable (with the job) than I was in the spring,” Warehime said after Tuesday’s practice. “Just from, number one, knowing the scheme inside and out with what we’re doing, being comfortable with the kids in that role.
“Everything, when it comes to coaching, is confidence. You have to know what you’re teaching. I had a pretty good handle on it in the spring, but now I feel like I know it inside and out.”
In inheriting Hutzler’s job, Warehime inherits kickoff returner Carlos Wiggins, the aforementioned Mountain West honoree. Wiggins, who returned three kicks for touchdowns last season, also is the 2014 MWC Preseason Special Teams Player of the Year.
But what of the kickers and punters, the guys who prevent the word “football” from being a misnomer – and sometimes decide football games? The Lobos lost both punter Ben Skaer and placekicker Justus Adams from last season.
Whoever wins the battle to kick field goals will have greater range than Adams did.
During the Lobos’ 11-day training camp in Ruidoso, Rio Rancho walk-on Zack Rogers and California scholarship freshman Jason Sanders both made kicks from 47 yards with air to spare.
Adams’ longest field goal the past two seasons was from 42 yards.
“Both of those kids (Rogers and Sanders) have strong legs. They really do,” Warehime said. “What’s great, just like at any position, there’s competition.”
Thus far, Davie said, Rogers has the edge as the field-goal kicker. If there were a game today, Sanders would handle the kickoffs.
“It looks like we have two kickers that are pretty explosive,” Davie said. “Jason Sanders, there’s no question. You can just close your eyes and hear him hit the ball.”
Replacing Skaer, who ranked fifth in the nation last year with a 45.8-yard average per attempt, will be a challenge.
Warehime said Rogers, who’s running ahead of Sanders in the punting competition, appears up to the task.
Last season, Skaer punted 47 times. Between fair catches, touchbacks, punts downed, etc., only 18 were returned.
Without Skaer, Warehime anticipated that ratio increasing.
“We went into camp saying we were gonna have to cover some kicks, and we’ve put more emphasis on that with our punt protection and coverage unit,” Warehime said. “But Zack has shown up and kind of taken that comment and saying, ‘No, I’m gonna force the fair catch.’ … He’s done a great job. He really has.”
On the flip side – the punt return – the Lobos had little success last season: 13 returns for a total of 60 yards.
Job one, of course, is catching the ball. But Davie and Warehime would love to see some big plays from the punt-return unit.
“We’ve got to generate some explosive plays,” Warehime said. “… Ninety-nine percent of the time, it comes down to who that returner is.”
Sophomore wide receiver Dameon Gamblin, who had a 28-yard punt return against Colorado State (equalling his jersey number), likely will be that guy. But Warehime said there are other contenders for the job, including Wiggins.
Special teams, of course, are not just about the guys who catch, carry or kick the ball.
Redshirt freshman safety Ricky Bennett, Warehime said, likely will see action on punt, punt return and kickoff units.
“He’s a talented kid,” Warehime said. “He’s a guy that you’re looking for, physically, as an athlete that can go do it.”
Warehime mentioned walk-on wide receiver Devin DeJarlais as another special-teams stalwart.
Front-line troops as well, like safety Brandon Branch and inside linebacker and team captain Dakota Cox, will be called upon.
“There are always gonna be starters on our special teams,” Davie said.