Specials teams, D-Line and wideouts: 3 units UH is excited to see, eventually
The season opener for the Cougars has now been postponed four times, with three coming in the span of a couple of weeks, but the program remains optimistic about the upcoming season.
Houston is eager to show off its improvements in specific areas whenever it is finally able to step on the field for a game.
Three areas that they are excited to see in action are special teams, the defensive line and the receivers corp. Here’s a look at what the assistant coaches said on Tuesday:
After being named Houston’s special teams coordinator in the spring of 2020, Mark Scott has been able to fine-tune his coaching style at UH.
As an analyst last season, Scott had a close look at the special teams and formulated how he wanted to lead.
“You’re always looking for things to add, things to pick up, things to change and tweak,” Scott said. “Last year was a good year for me to take a step back and change the way I approach a few things.”
Scott has worked with head coach Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia, which he feels helped him become more comfortable with his role in Houston.
“Working with Coach Holgorsen in the past … There’s some familiarity there,” Scott said.
After losing two veteran long snappers in Anthony Cantu and Nick Wildberger, the Cougars have relied on underclassmen for the position.
Scott, however, is still just as confident in the group heading into 2020.
“I feel really comfortable now,” he said. “That (position) was obviously one of the question marks after graduating two guys … We had a lot of competition all throughout the summer. We wanted to put those guys in as many high-pressure situations as possible, and I think we’ve made huge strides because of that.”
One key player for the special teams was without a doubt last year’s AAC Special Teams Player of the Year, punter Dane Roy.
Despite losing UH’s single-season record holder in yards per punt (46.9), Scott is excited for another Australian, freshman punter Laine Wilkins, to step up.
“Dane was a great punter, and we’re going to miss him, but at the same time I think people are going to be pretty impressed when they see what we’re going to put out there this year with Laine,” Scott said.
After several changes on the defensive side from last season, defensive line coach Brian Early is focused on getting his players back on track.
“In comparison to where we were last year, we’re just trying to figure out schematically where to line up,” said Early on the depth of this year’s defensive line. “It being our first year here, there are some growing pains with that from a technique standpoint.”
With the unexpected pause in spring practices, Early has not been able to utilize his full lineup.
“We feel that we have quality depth, we just really haven’t had our full squad for the entire camp, but this is, I guess, the new normal with COVID,” Early said.
Despite the shortened time, Early feels confident in his unit.
“I feel really good about where we are,” he said. “We’re eight-strong upfront right now, there may be a ninth guy, there may be a 10th guy that could do some situational stuff for us, but we feel really good about the top eight and the quality of our first two units.”
A standout for the defensive line has been redshirt junior D’Anthony Jones.
“He’s got some things that you can’t coach. Extremely explosive, really great get-off, a fast-twitch guy,” Early said. “He’s starting to really come into his own as a pass rusher now.”
As for returning key players, seniors Payton Turner and David Anenih, along with junior Derek Parish, are expected to have big campaigns.
“All three of those guys, you can tell they’ve put a lot of work in,” Early said. “I’ve been pleased with their development and where they are right now.”
Wide receivers coach Tyron Carrier has seen more depth in comparison to last season.
“Now there are about eight to nine guys that you can depend on to make some key situation plays for you,” Carrier said.
Houston has consistently relied on senior wide receiver Marquez Stevenson, who is coming off an American Athletic All-Conference First Team selection.
But another receiver that Carrier is impressed by is sophomore Nathaniel Dell.
“He’s a spectacular player. I’ve got a whole room of those guys it feels like,” Carrier said. “His speed, his route running capabilities are some of the best I’ve seen.”
After redshirting last season, senior wide receiver Keith Corbin looked forward to competing again, but upon his return, he had to adapt to a new way of playing receiver under Carrier’s coaching.
“With him redshirting, he got a chance to see (the new way of playing receiver) and sit back and observe it a little bit better,” Carrier said. “Now you hear him out there coaching the young guys.”
With Corbin’s decision to redshirt, other receivers like juniors Jeremy Singleton, Tre’von Bradley and Bryson Smith have had the opportunity to showcase their abilities and look like veterans heading into 2020.
“Those guys got an opportunity to step into the limelight that they’ve never stepped into before,” Carrier said. “With those three guys, I’m most comfortable with them at any time in the game.”