Under new head coach Herm Edwards, a lot has changed at ASU practices. That includes for the the special teams unit — a group that most don’t see or hear from at practice after they head off of the Kajikawa Practice Field and into the Verde Dickey Dome.
They head in there alone — no fans or media are watching. But, unlike last year and year’s prior, their special teams coach Shawn Slocum joins them. Since he arrived in Tempe in 2015, Slocum has held the role of special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach.
Slocum survived Edwards hire, and even got some help as Antonio Pierce was brought in to coach the linebackers — giving Slocum the sole title of special teams coordinator.
“I’m the Special Teams Coordinator. That’s what I do all day,” Slocum said. “I help coach Edwards with some of the structure stuff in practice and that’s the way we role.”
The former Green Bay Packers special teams coordinator isn’t juggling the two roles anymore. Last season, he would stay outside coach the linebackers while the specialists went in the bubble.
The kickers, punters, long snappers and holders were unattended to for most of their practices a season ago. Kicker Brandon Ruiz said they would usually use their time in the bubble — away from Slocum — as a rest period to stretch and give their bodies a break.
Now, with Slocum coaching them throughout the entirety of practice, each specialist is getting less rest and more time to work on their craft with a trained eye watching them.
Ruiz said that he still goes through the same amount of kicks before practice — about 20, he said — but his kicks in the bubble have doubled or even tripled since last season — a total that amounts to about 30 kicks in the dome, he said.
Redshirt freshman punter Matthew Bazarevitsch said that his group also kicks more, and because each rep is watched by Slocum, the reps are higher-quality, too.
“Now he’ll have his phone or his IPad out – we do slow-motion video,” Bazarevitsch said. “So, we’ll watch the film – what I’m doing right, what I’m doing wrong – it’s cool to have the film right there and not have to wait until the end of practice.”
The Pasadena, Calif. native says that he is currently working on getting rid of the ball quicker.
Edwards came to Tempe based upon Arizona State moving to a “NFL model” of running a football team. That’s probably a big reason as to why Slocum was retained by the new staff. From 2006 to 2015, Slocum worked with the Packers’ special teams, becoming their special teams coordinator in 2009.
Throughout it all, the fourth-year ASU coach was getting engrained with the NFL practices that have made their way into the Sun Devils’ complex, as well as getting a abundance of time watching the best in the game first-hand — knowledge that he’s worked to pass on at ASU.
The Sun Devils’ specialists use the new “theory period” — a two-minute water break of sorts where coaches can talk about anything with their group — as a chance to pick the brain of their coach.
“Today we were actually talking about rules of the game,” Bazarevitsch said after Tuesday’s practice. “Like when we’re backed up in the endzone, like what’s the rule is about if the ball is on the ground do we hit it out the back or do we try and punt it away.”
Bazarevitsch said he’ll also ask about former Packers’ punter Tim Masthay: “What were their daily routines like? How were his steps compared to mine?” Bazarevitsch said he’ll ask Slocum.
Slocum seems like he’s enjoying the NFL-style practice. He compared the flow and rhythm of the Devils’ new practices to that of the up and downs of a game. A change he agreed was much better than a season ago — for him and his unit.
“The ability to spend that amount of time with the kickers, it’s like the National Football League where you go out and you’ll have a structure that you’ll do for two hours,” Slocum said. “It’s been healthy I think over all we’re seeing improvement overall.”