Wednesday, August 17, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

When Oshiomogho Atogwe arrived in St. Louis as a third-round choice out of Stanford, he immediately did his best to meet all of the players, coaches and staff around Rams Park. He made it a point to meet his position coach as well as the special teams coach.

Even if he didn’t want to meet new special teams coach Bob Ligashesky he probably would have known who he was soon after. At any given practice Ligashesky can be seen running around the field like he’s hoping to earn a spot in kick coverage himself. Failing that, then you will definitely be able to hear him as he yells out instructions with a voice universally heard around the practice field.

But when those drills begin, Ligashesky isn’t the only coach dishing out instruction. There is another man, one that doesn’t quite draw as much attention. Mention the name Charles Bankins to Atogwe and you might just get a blank stare followed soon after by an inquisitive look and the ever-popular question of “Who?”

Ligashesky is indeed the new special teams coach and everyone knows that, but to the untrained eye it might appear that he is working alone. That’s because Bankins is Ligashesky’s perfect foil.

Quiet, subdued and thoughtful, Bankins is the Felix Ungar to Ligashesky’s Oscar Madison. But aside from their approach to teaching special teams, the two aren’t so different.

“It’s a good balance and I think you have to have the yin and yang type of thing going on,” Bankins said. “That’s just my personality. I like to see things, get in the flow of things and feed off his incredible energy. We have the same goals, same tasks and even same intensity, it just looks a little different because he’s out there flying around, getting it done.”

The need for somebody to simply get it done was never as apparent for the Rams as it was going into this offseason. St. Louis has been in a special teams rut for the better part of the past few years and hit rock bottom last year.

The Rams finished last or near last in every major special teams category last season under the tutelage of coach Mike Stock. Stock was replaced soon after the special teams hit its low point against the Falcons in an NFC Divisional Playoff Game. In that game, the Rams allowed a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown by Allen Rossum and he went on to set a record for return yardage.

With Stock out of the picture, the Rams decided to make a move to inject some youthful exuberance and energy into the fray. Enter Ligashesky.

“I love coach Lig, just because he brings so much energy,” Atogwe said. “He is just really passionate about special teams and it carries over. Sometimes guys are like ‘Oh, special teams.’ But after being around coach Lig, you start to get pumped up a little so you can match his intensity.”

St. Louis’ search for Stock’s replacement took them to Jacksonville where Ligashesky was the assistant special teams coach for one season. His rise through the ranks was one of the quickest in the league as Ligashesky was just a year removed from 19 seasons of coaching a variety of things in the college ranks.

But that one year with the Jaguars was long enough for Ligashesky to meet and take a liking to Bankins. Bankins worked as an intern for Ligashesky in Jacksonville and made enough of an impression for Ligashesky to take a liking to him.

The Rams hired Ligashesky on Jan. 21 and followed less than a month later by hiring Bankins on Feb. 17.

Bankins interned with the Packers in 2002, but that year and the year with Ligashesky were his only two years of NFL experience.

It didn’t take long for the duo to start pushing for the types of players that can help this team turn around. The Rams went out and signed special teams specialists such as Corey Ivy, Michael Stone and Michael Hawthorne. St. Louis also used some late draft picks on players that can help on special teams.

As training camp started, it didn’t take long for people to notice the two new special teams coaches, especially Ligashesky. Even receiver Torry Holt, who hasn’t done any special teams work, took notice.

“I’m very impressed by the special teams coach and what he is bringing to the football team,” Holt said. “The energy, his enthusiasm, the way he teaches, the way guys are responding to his teaching. The guys are actually trying to go out and apply what he’s teaching.”

It remains to be seen how improved this unit will be this season, but at the least, it appears the Rams are making every effort to get better. For every player Ligashesky screams at to get in position, there is Bankins providing the same type of instruction.

Safety Mike Furrey, who was one of the Rams’ few bright spots on special teams a year ago, said the special teams could improve because of the way Bankins and Ligashesky work together.

“Coach Lig is a little bit more out there,” Furrey said. “Then Charles is a little more laid back, but he is very detailed too. They teach in a different manner, but they work off of each other and they both have the answers when you ask questions.”

The added instruction from both coaches should no doubt have an impact on the performance of the special teams, though how much of an impact that has is unknown. But, as coach Mike Martz said early in training camp, it can’t get much worse.

“Well you can’t fall out of the basement can you?” Martz said. “So I think that we will get better.”

The sooner the players get to know their coaches, both of their coaches, the sooner that improvement can begin