As the late, great Hall of Fame football coach George Allen would say, “football is one-third offense, one-third defense, and one-third special teams.”
Since taking over as the Longhorns head coach, Tom Herman has emphasized the importance of this phase of the game from day one. He constantly stresses upon playing his best athletes on special teams. Under Herman so far, his team’s play hasn’t met the standards of what great football teams do on special teams.
From being indecisive on returning kickoffs to failing to commit to a returner on a weekly basis, inexcusable problems headlined the Longhorns special teams unit in 2019. Aside from top returner D’Shawn Jamison and kicker Cameron Dicker, Texas was pretty woeful as a unit this past season.
That is all likely to change under a revamped coaching staff next season, as Herman brought in several assistants with extensive college experience and prominent track records coaching special teams.
It starts with new associate head coach, ST/TE coach Jay Boulware. Boulware spent the past seven seasons serving as Oklahoma’s special teams coordinator, where he also coached running backs and tight ends. His track record and numbers speak for itself. Throughout his time at Oklahoma, beyond the elite kicking they’ve had, the Sooners were extremely solid as a unit on special teams.
According to Football Outsiders’ SFEI Special Teams Ratings, which represents the per possession scoring advantage a team’s special teams unit would be expected to have on a neutral field against an average opponent, Texas has measured right above average under Herman thus far — No. 37 in 2017, No. 44 in 2018, and No. 46 in 2019. To further speak for Boulware’s coaching ability, Oklahoma ranked No. 6 in 2018 and No. 21 in 2019 under these metrics.
In Boulware’s first season as the Sooners special teams coordinator, his unit ranked eighth nationally in punt return average. In 2014, the following season, Oklahoma return specialist Alex Ross ranked third among FBS players in kickoff return yards with a 31.2 yard return average.
Texas’ new co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Coleman Hutzler also brings in valuable experience coaching the third phase of football. During his time at South Carolina, wide receiver Deebo Samuel set the school record and tied the all-time SEC mark with four kickoff returns for touchdowns. Even though Hutzler is listed as a defensive assistant, he’s likely to be involved in coaching special teams at Texas given his track record.
Not to mention, wide receivers coach Andre Coleman is a former NFL returner himself.
With the right coaching dominoes finally in place, now begins the surge towards revitalizing an elite special teams unit — a group that’ll be led by the electric D’Shawn Jamison returning kicks and punts for the Longhorns in 2020.
Dating back to his high school days at Houston Lamar, Jamsion has been known for his natural instincts and ability to make plays as a returner.
Coming out of high school, Jamison’s elite speed set him apart and earned him immediate playing time returning kicks and punts for Texas as a freshman — he also saw the field sparingly on offense. The Jamison return experience wasn’t smooth sailing from the start, though. He had his fair share of freshman mistakes and averaged just 20.2 yards on 10 kick return attempts. But there was one specific play that overshadowed the struggles of that freshman season — the 90-yard punt return touchdown against Kansas State.
Jamsion caught the punt in fluid motion and eluded several defenders to get to the next level. He then showed off his burst in the open field and patiently followed his blockers on his way to six. This single play was ultimately the difference between a road win and loss for Texas in a game that was decided by one possession. It also served as the moment where Jamison emerged onto the scene as a punt returner. Special teams really does win football games sometimes.
His next impact return didn’t come until nearly a year later against Rice with a minute remaining in the game.
Due to indecision among the coaching staff and poor player development, Jamison was almost forgotten as a return specialist throughout his sophomore season. He was stuck behind senior-led players like Devin Duvernay on kickoffs and Brandon Jones on punts.
The long month of preparation leading up to the Alamo Bowl proved to not only be beneficial for the Texas coaching staff, but it also helped Jamison work his way back into that spark-plug return role. He nearly doubled the team’s punt return yardage on the season against Utah.
Jamison was a man on a mission returning punts against the Utes. He looked as polished as ever as a returner and impressed creating space through deceiving, subtle cuts while keeping his eyes up-field. His 71-yard punt return set the tone for that game and shifted all the momentum in Texas’ favor. The Longhorns topped off the win with a touchdown drive following a strong 25-yard punt return by Jamison out to midfield.
To put Jamison’s big play return ability into greater context, his punt return (25.5) and kick return (30.2) yard averages as a sophomore would have set the UT single-season records had he averaged 1.2 attempts per game.
Jamison’s performance in the Alamo Bowl may be just a hint of what’s to come in 2020 under this revamped coaching staff.
Texas has been lacking dominant special teams play and elite returners ever since the Aaron Ross and Jordan Shipley days. Shipley holds the school record with four career return touchdowns. Based on what Jamison has shown up to this point, he looks capable of reaching that feat next season. Entering the spring of 2020, with two years of eligibility remaining, Jamison has a legitimate chance to go down as UT’s best returner ever.
In fact, new offensive coordinator Michael Yurkich should look into possibly adding a few wrinkles involving Jamison on offense, especially if slot receiver Joshua Moore doesn’t get cleared to play. Jamison’s elite speed and ability to play both ways would add even more value to Yurkich’s down-the-field passing attack. The Jamison wide receiver experiment was a complete failure in Tim Beck’s 3x1 offensive personnel. Now, Texas finally has a modernized offensive system in place designed to effectively get speed in space.
Recent college athletes such as Adoree Jackson and Jabrill Peppers had success playing both ways. Two-way players add another element to offenses and present an extra challenge for defenses to prepare against.
Could you imagine a LSU-Texas game next season with cornerbacks D’Shawn Jamison and Derek Stingley playing both ways?
Below are a few informative videos on what new TE/ST coach Jay Boulware stresses upon in his coaching philosophies as a special teams coach.