Try, try again

By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch


Had AmerenUE figured out a way somehow to tap into new special teams coach Bob Ligashesky, Rams Park wouldn't have been without power for more than 24 hours a couple of weeks ago. The tireless Ligashesky emits enough energy to light the entire complex, plus the rest of Earth City, too.

"He's infectious; his attitude and his energy every day carries over to the players," said safety Mike Furrey, a special teams veteran. "So when we get on the field, no matter what's going on in our mind right now, he turns that over to, 'Let's get our assignments done, and let's have enthusiasm as we're doing it.'"

Ligashesky, 43, is running - literally - his own unit for the first time. After 19 years on staffs at Arizona State, Kent State, Bowling Green and Pittsburgh, he moved up to the NFL last season, where he served as the Jacksonville Jaguars' assistant special teams coach. Martz, who coached with Ligashesky at Arizona State from 1986 to '88, hired him after firing Mike Stock.

In Stock's only season here, the Rams' special teams were dreadful. They ranked 31st in punt returns (4.8-yard average) and kickoff returns (19.1). They were 30th in defending punt returns (11.9) and 32nd - dead last - on kickoffs (25.5). "There were games last year when special teams just lost the game for us," Furrey acknowledged.
with 152 yards in punt returns. That included a 68-yard touchdown jaunt as the Falcons crushed the Rams 47-17.

Of course, Stock isn't the first special teams coach who had a brief tenure under Martz, merely the latest: Ligashesky is the fourth man to occupy that chair, and Martz is entering just his sixth season as head coach. No matter who was in charge, though, the results were consistently feeble.

"The last few years, we've had comments about our special teams that haven't been on the positive side," Furrey said diplomatically. "It's going the right way right now, but we have to get out there and do it on game day."

Progress has been made, but much remains on Ligashesky's to-do list before the season opener Sept. 11 in San Francisco. "We've got to get used to game speed and improve in executing our techniques at that tempo," he said. "We're constantly trying to improve the individual in order to improve the team, (with) ongoing skill and technique development."

Veteran Corey Ivy describes special teams as "pretty much nothing but hustling around; it's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it." Ligashesky emphasizes that proper application of the finer points is vital, too.

"He's a stickler about technique, which is exactly what we want," Martz said. No aspect seems to be unimportant; Ligashesky, in fact, spent about 30 minutes during one session teaching the proper way to cover the ball after an onside kick.

"From a knowledge standpoint and what to do, he's done a terrific job; everybody's fine there," Martz said. "The technique issues of how to do all this stuff is where we are."

The Rams targeted special-teams personnel during the offseason, most notably with the free-agent acquisitions of Ivy, Michael Stone, Terry Fair and Michael Hawthorne. They also brought in several rookies who project as special-teams contributors.

Martz often has been criticized for not giving special teams proper emphasis, but Ligashesky said he's had plenty of latitude during the preseason to work his units. Every third day, the afternoon practice is devoted entirely to special teams. Other sessions include special teams periods.

"We've had ample time, meeting time, on the field . . . it's been outstanding," Ligashesky said. "Now, we've got to show production on the game field."

Reaching that goal, he said, shouldn't be affected in any way by the Rams' special teams pratfalls in the past. "We're starting new . . . moving on from our own beginning," he said. "We're been trying to build our own personality and mind-set since we've started here."

That's happening, Furrey noted. "It's totally different. The attitude's different, the energy level's different, and the concepts that we're doing are different," he said. "I can't wait for the season to start. Everybody's very interested and very excited to ... show right off the bat that there's new special teams now."

But, will new be better? If not, it won't be for a lack of drive from the zealous Ligashesky. "We've got a young, energetic coach who has high demands for special teams," Ivy said. "The intensity is there."

Reporter Bill Coats

Phone: 314-340-8189