COLUMBIA -- When preseason camp began earlier this month, South Carolina assistant coach Shane Beamer was fully prepared for his first special teams meeting.
He had cut up about 10 video snippets of things the units did exceptionally well in last year's Georgia game. Among the highlights were a fumble recovery on kickoff coverage, a successful fake punt and Chris Culliver's long kickoff return.
But then Beamer broke out some other moments from that game that weren't so hot. Among them were Brandon Boykin's kickoff return for a Georgia touchdown and two more kick returns that nearly went the distance. And, of course, there was the blocked point-after try that likely would have sent the game to overtime in the 41-37 loss in Athens, Ga. (USC was well within field-goal range when time expired.)
"If we make that, we win that game," senior kicker and punter Spencer Lanning said of the failed extra point. "That's something I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about. It's something that keeps bothering me."
You don't exactly need a degree from USC to understand what special teams did and didn't do in that ballgame. And it's not as if that were an isolated example in an uneven season in that department.
"We've got to become an asset for this team," Beamer said. "We've got to be better if we're going to compete for championships."
That message is sinking in, even to the team's new players -- many of which will be on various units.
"If guys don't get it, they will," Lanning said. "Coach Beamer has been harping on it. It's a third of the game, whether you want to believe that or not. I think some coaches try to shy away from it, but every coach and player here is 100 percent committed to special teams."
Beginning with Lanning, there were those bright spots for the Gamecocks in 2009.
In his first year kicking, replacing the mostly reliable Ryan Succop, Lanning made 17 of 20 field goals.
Lanning shanked a short kick in the opener at North Carolina State -- something he calls the best thing that could have happened to him -- and then went on to make 17 of his next 19 field goals.
"I'm very proud that I missed that first kick because it made me better," Lanning said. "That kick forced me to dig within myself, and it did to the special teams as a whole, to get better."
Still, quite obviously, the Gamecocks had their special teams issues.
Spurrier was certainly left disgusted on a few occasions by the team's kickoff coverage.
In addition to Boykin, Vanderbilt's Warren Norman and Clemson's C.J. Spiller returned kickoffs for scores against the Gamecocks. Beamer called that embarrassing.
Part of the solution is the kickoff itself. Adam Yates was inconsistent as he was thrust into the job. Joey Scribner-Howard and Jay Wooten, who both sat last season as transfers, are vying for that spot in camp.
Beamer doesn't expect the ball to get to the end zone, especially with the recent rule change pushing the kickoff spot back to the 30-yard line. Hang time and placement are of the most importance, even more than distance. The optimal kickoff is high and left of the left hash. The end zone is just a bonus.
Even Lanning isn't exempt from an area that needs improving. Lanning, entering his third season with that job, was fourth in the SEC, averaging 41.9 yards a punt. However, the Gamecocks were 10th in the league in net yardage, at 34.1 yards a kick.
Lanning blames himself, saying he wasn't getting the kicks high enough. That's part of it, but it's also in the coverage aspect of it. This year, Lanning said speedsters such as Culliver and Ace Sanders are part the punt coverage team, as gunners.
Look for both of those players, as well as Bryce Sherman, Akeem Auguste and Stephon Gilmore, to factor into the kick and punt return games. That's another area in which Beamer would like to improve.
Last season was Beamer's first as the sole proprietor of the team's special teams units. He was a co-coordinator with Fred Chatham in 2007, his first season with USC. He deferred to Ray Rychleski in 2008. And then he assumed the title outright in 2009.
Along with that went a reasonable learning curve of what was required to please the boss, Steve Spurrier. Beamer said he feels far more acclimated, and organized, in his second year as coordinator.
His players can see Beamer's heart in his work, as well.
"He teaches us the right way to do things," Lanning said. "He gives us the right information and makes sure we get it. It's not like we have to figure it out for ourselves."