DETROIT – It is awful out today.
Well, at least here, anyway.
So rather than thinking about things Detroit-related, how about a football Q&A I’ve been saving for the last week?
Sounds good? All right, here’s a conversation with Maryland’s new special teams coordinator and tight ends coach, Charles Bankins. Bankins is in his first year at Maryland, taking over after a stint with Richmond (which won the national title in the former Division I-AA last year).
PS: Ralph Friedgen was talking about how kickoff return is your speciality. What sorts of things are there that you use?
CB: I’ve been fortunate. The first thing you have to do is you have to have a good specialist. If everyone believes in the scheme, we’re pretty good. We’re fortunate to take it to three different levels — at Hampton, at Richmond or St. Louis Rams — we’ve been pretty good at returning the football. It’s all about we teach it up and coach it up, and we coach the little things as far as returners getting a jump on the ball and playing fast.
PS: What do you think of the return guys that you’ve got to work with?
CB: We have a good crew to work with. It doesn’t take just one guy. We have to believe in him. If we get the whole unit believing we’re going to score points, then that’s what happens. We haven’t got to that phase of the spring yet, but when we get to it, I think the guys will see they like the scheme.
PS: Torrey [Smith]’s probably going to be your guy again?
CB: We have some guys that will push him. It’s not a gimme. He’s got to hold onto his position, and we’re going to put the best guy back there.
PS: Kenny Tate will probably be in the mix back there?
CB: Kenny will be in the mix. Even [Anthony] Wiseman has a chance. We have some fast guys. I think kickoff return is a little bit different than punt return. You have more time. You can be a little less confident the coverage will get to you. We’re going to do a great job getting the jump on the football, and we’ll get the ball caught before they get downfield, where they have a chance to make plays on our guy.
PS: At punt return, Tony Logan had a very good bowl game. What do you see out of that position?
CB: Same thing. He’s got the leg up, obviously, from the bowl game, but it’s all about improving. We’re going to put the best guy out there. I was always brought up by the saying that if yesterday still looks good, you haven’t done enough today. We’re going to make sure we keep pushing. Kenny Tate does a great job catching the ball, and that’s first and foremost what we want to do — catch all catchable balls and not give up any yardage by letting the ball roll.
PS: It sounds like you’re fitting in with Ralph already.
CB: That’s our philosophy and that’s what we do. We just have to get the ball caught. We want to get at least one first down. If you’re going to say a guy is going to average 50 to 60 yards a return, that just doesn’t happen. We could lead the country in returns if we average 16 to 17 yards a return. That’s what we want to do is get great jumps, get the ball caught, create separation between our coverage and our return and give him a chance to be the football player he is.
PS: Travis Baltz has two years under his belt. It has to be somewhat reassuring one of those positions is pretty well settled heading into the season.
CB: Again, he can’t rest on his laurels, either. Teddy [Townsley] has done a good job of competing against him. Travis has got to be consistent. He kind of got into a comfort zone with the snapper the last couple years, and now as we’re going through some growing pains with the snapper, he’s got to be even better. He can’t relax or rely on the snapper so much. He’s got to do a lot of the work himself.
PS: Kicker’s an interesting spot in that you’ve got a guy coming in in the fall (Nick Ferrara) who is probably going to work his way into the mix somehow. How do you approach the spring when you’re in that waiting mode, or do you like what you see with the guys you have here?
CB: We have guys that are competing. I haven’t spent a lot of time with Nick coming in. I know his speciality is kickoff, and we’re going to be great on the coverage unit. That’s where he can come in and have more of an immediate impact. If one of these guys can come in and hold down the field goal duties, I think we can be pretty at specialist from a veteran guy or a guy who’s been around the program handling the pressure kicks. Let Nick get game experience by blasting the ball down the field while knowing he’s got coverage men who are going to make plays for him. But he still has to win the job when he gets here. When there’s 70,000 people screaming at you, it’s a little bit different than 7,500 at your high school game.
PS: Is snapper a little bit of a worry spot. People overlook it until something goes wrong. They’ve had two snappers here in the last eight years. Is that a concern, or at least something you very much have your eye on.
CB: It all starts with the snap. If you’ve never done it in a game, it’s a whole different situation when the bullets are flying at you. Until we get game experience doing it, it’s not going to be a concern, but an area that needs improvement all the time. We have some candidates. Until the bullets are flying, you never know.
PS: This is a school that hasn’t had a punt blocked in 10 years. Is that a matter of just leave it alone and hope things stay good, based on the system?
CB: It’s a great system. It’s similar to systems I’ve used in the past, so it was an easy transition to go to this system. Again, it all started with the snap, and that needs to improve. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
PS: With the tight end situation, what do you make of what you’ve got right there?
CB: I really like the way they work at the tight end position. They work hard. We have to get more physical at the position, but the guys work hard each and every day. They learn, they soak things up. I think we have some guys who can make plays at that position, from Tommy Galt to [walk-on] Ryan Schlothauer, who made two catches the last few practices that probably should be on YouTube.
Much thanks to Bankins for his time.
— Patrick Stevens