Virginia Tech puts special in special teams

The Virginia Tech senior plays on all four special team units for the program that has become nationally known – and nicknamed -- for its penchant of scoring with the offense on the sidelines, a personal touch of coach Frank Beamer.

When Virginia Tech faces off with Tennessee Thursday night in the Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome, be sure the Vols will have taken special tutoring in Hokies’ special teams chicanery.

“I knew coming here, that’s what Coach Beamer was about,” Reidy said. “Beamerball, everyone knows about that. That’s just his philosophy. I think it’s a good way to coach. I feel like we gain an advantage in special teams and how our special teams perform.”

In 23 seasons under Beamer, Virginia Tech has scored 124 touchdowns from either its defense and special teams. That works out to nearly 5 1/2 touchdowns per year out of plays with limited scoring potential. It has three special teams scores (two punt returns, one kickoff return) this season, the first a 98-yard kickoff run-back by Dyrell Roberts in the season opener against Alabama in the Dome.

“I knew it would be hard to start on a Virginia Tech defense, but I knew how important special teams were to Coach Beamer and that helped me come here,” said Reidy, a reserve safety whoscored one of the special teams’ touchdowns this season on a blocked punt against Miami. “I wanted to be part of the kickoff team that ran down against Alabama to start the season. And I want to be on the kickoff team that runs down the field against Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. That’s how everybody feels. It’s that important.”

The significance of Beamerball i is obvious in the statistics. Tech averages 24.7 yards per kickoff return. The opposition averages just 19.7 yards. Tech averages 10.5 yards per punt return. The opposition averages 7.8 yards.

Check the drive charts. After receiving a kick off, Tech drives start at an average of the 33.9-yard line. Opponents start at the 25. After receiving a punt, Tech drives start at an average of the 32.1-yard line. Opponents start at the 25.1.

Virginia Tech leads the ACC and is in the top 30 nationally in net punting and kickoff returns.

“Our philosophy is special teams is just as important as offense and defense,” said Reidy, a former walk-on. “It’s another third of the game. It’s just as important as the other two so we focus on them just as much as offensive and defense.”

The reason for Virginia Tech’s success on special teams boils down to three factors, according to Beamer.

The first is Beamer coaches the units himself. This allows for his assistants to focus on their areas. It also gives the players a real sense of the importance of the special teams if the head coach is overseeing them.

Beamer said he used to have a hand in all three phases of the game in addition to his off-the-field duties. As his coaching staff evolved over the years, he found it best to handle the special teams alone.

“[Defensive coordinator] Bud Foster used to have the punt protection team,” Beamer said. “He’d have to do that first thing. Now I do that and he goes ahead with his defensive game plan. It’s a good way to operate.”

The second factor is the special teams’ personnel. Reidy is the rarity, a player who plays primarily on the units. Typically, Hokies special teams are comprised mostly of starters from the offensive and defensive squads.

“I think the key to it is to get the best people on there that can do that job,” Beamer said. “For different teams, the criteria is a little bit different. But basically, when you are talking about special teams, you are talking about open field, you’re talking about having to do things athletically. It takes good athletes to be able to do that. If you are trying to play third-teamers, they may not be the best people to perform that function.”

Finally, special teams practice is not an afterthought. Dedicating special team periods to the beginning or the end of a practice, Beamer feels, lessens their importance and tends to punish the players.

“What helps us, again with the head coach being involved, is it gives it some importance,” Beamer said. “If you come to our practice, the only time we stop practice is to do our special teams because it’s offensive and defensive guys. It makes it important. We have an offensive player of the game, a defensive player of the game and a special teams player of the game. That way you get your best people on there.

“We would never come before practice or after practice because then you are kind of punishing the kids. We want them to be on special teams. I’m trying to get them on special teams.”

So how important are special teams in Blacksburg? Reidy said that coaches inform players that if they need to take a play off during a game, they should skip their offensive or defensive rotation, not their special teams’ duties.

“I love my role,” Reidy said. “I want the special teams to help out the defense and offense.”

At Virginia Tech, they have.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.