MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - In the technical aspect, Daron Roberts is West Virginia's outside receivers coach and in charge of anything the Mountaineers do on kickoff and punt returns. That includes recovering onside kicks and blocking punts.
In his mind, though, Roberts is a part-time offensive coordinator.
"My philosophy is the catch is a given, first and foremost, and we're going to catch everything that comes our way," Roberts said. "Once that happens, we want to score. We're not looking at punt return and kickoff return as being safe types of units. We're looking at them as a true offensive play.
"We're going to scheme up and draw up punt returns with the sole intent to get into the end zone."
He approaches his responsibility the same way the actual offensive coordinator, Dana Holgorsen, approaches his.
"I look at the punt and kickoff teams as opposing units and scheme our returns based on what they do," Roberts said. "Obviously we'll have some basic returns up the middle and to the left and right and situations where we have to play it safe, but what we want to do is capitalize on what we view to be the other team's weaknesses."
The Mountaineers have had only 19 punt return touchdowns in school history and none since Vaughn Rivers scored on a 50-yard return at Mississippi State in 2006. Opponents have had three return touchdowns since then.
Since Bill Stewart took over as coach before the 2008 season, WVU has ranked Nos. 74, 44 and 58 nationally and only once averaged more than 8.41 yards per return (10.36 in 2009).
In 2007, when the Mountaineers were one win away from a spot in the national championship game, they ranked No. 23 (12.0). A year before, when they were ranked No. 5 in the preseason poll and went as high as No. 3, the Mountaineers ranked No. 53, but averaged 9.0 yards, more than in 2010 and 2008.
A kickoff has been returned 12 times in school history and junior Tavon Austin had the last one, a 98-yard play against Connecticut in 2009. Opponents have had one since then.
WVU was No. 108 in kickoff returns last season (19.2), No. 60 (21.9) in 2009 and No. 56 (21.5) in 2008. That followed rankings of No. 34 (22.5) and No. 8 (24.3) the previous two seasons.
"I already told them, 'You don't care what I did with the Lions, I don't care what you did the past few years. We're both starting with a blank slate,'" said Roberts, a first-time college coach after four seasons on NFL staffs and time spent working with special teams. "I'm not going to show them tape of any other team. We're going to start building a library of tape of what we can do and judge them from there."
Spring is not conducive to developing special teams beyond establishing who has good hands and feet, and that's often accomplished with a JUGS machine and non-contact drills.