Will Oliver's early season performance was one of the bright spots of 2011.
In my heart, but Buffs will always be special, but that is not what we are talking about here.
Spring Football Question Number Four:
Can we improve on special teams?
This is a must. And not in just one or two areas. Every. Single. One. We'll start with the kicking units, and we'll start where every kick starts, with the snapper.
Ryan Iverson spent his second year as the team's long snapper and his first as the short snapper. While it hasn't been talked about much, I'm still not sold on him as the best option there. Believe it or not, I don't like to get down on the players too much, but I do want to be honest. His snaps don't have great zip on them. If we can criticize QBs for not having enough arm strength, then I'm allowed to talk about his snapping. And he's a pretty small guy, so he gets pushed back further and more often than you'd like. We can't do much about the size issue, so I'm hoping that he at least improves on his snap velocity. Our punters have been at a disadvantage in that area. We have two other snappers listed on the roster and DaVaughn Thornton and Kyle Slavin have practiced there in the past, so we'll see what happens this spring. One of those guys is Keegan Lamar from Fairview and he might be the one to unseat Iverson.
Follow the jump to see Jon Embree's favorite brand of bottled water!
While Darragh O'Neill had a solid year (when he was allowed to punt like a normal person instead of those frustrating rugby-style kicks) for a guy who hadn't played football before. But we can still improve in this area. He is a great story, but we also have a guy on the roster who has the potential to be an excellent college punter (or kicker, for that matter). Zach Grossnickle is a guy that we've heard a lot about. He has a great leg and he's shown it each offseason, but consistency has always been the name of the game with him. When he's on (and he's been working with a kicking coach this offseason), he's tough to beat and gets NFL All-Pro distance and hangtime. If he can harness that, I could see him taking the punting job. And at the very least, I think he has shot to win the KO specialist job.
Kick Off Specialist:
We we used two different guys here in 2011 and both ended up booting the ball out of bounds a number of times. That just can't happen. But there are new kickoff rules, and I honestly don't know what that means for this position, except that it might eliminate it. Many people believe that the new strategy on kickoffs (which we won't be practicing much this spring, incidentally) is to kick the ball to right around the goalline and force returners to bring it out. So we not may not want a guy that can boot it out the back of the endzone. But whoever wins the job will do so by not kicking it out of bounds. Will Oliver and Justin Castor both have experience kicking off, but they are the guys that sent it out of bounds on more than one occasion. Still, they'll get the opportunity to do it again, I'm sure, but I would be just fine with Grossnickle winning the job. Especially because he's on scholarship and we like the guys on scholarship to contribute.
Oliver was good early, but then came back down to early in the second half of the year. It may have just been because he hit the wall the most freshmen do one they get into the meat of their first College semester and they begin to struggle to balance academics and athletics. But he has an advantage coming into 2012. It will be up to Justin Castor and possibly Zach Grossnickle to push him for the job. Oliver had a few kicks blocked, though it wasn't all his fault. He got bad blocking on one, though he did kick another one way too low. If he can return to focusing on his technique, he will probably be just fine and keep the job, but again, I wouldn't be upset if someone else beat him out for the job.
Holder, pinner, what ever you want to call it, it's an underrated position. Scotty McKnight was a pretty good one for us and we may have our next good one already. Justin Gorman the walkon did the job last year and was pretty good. He adjusted on poor snaps and there weren't (at least I don't remember) any flubs that were on him. And as a former HS quarterback and a pretty good athlete (he was one of the candidates for returning kicks), he may be a good option for the occasional fake FG. I think he's going to keep the job for a while.
We had a bunch of guys return kicks last year, though none of them really stood out beyond the crowd. Gorman will probably get another chance at the job, as will some of the newcomers. Sherrard Harrington is a guy that I believe should get a chance to do it but we'll see if the coaches try him. Really, Spring will give us a chance to see who is in the discussion here, because nobody stood out in 2011.
This is an area we've been lacking in for a while. Part of the problem last year was that we just didn't force many punts. But that's not what we're discussing here. Keenan Canty was given a few opportunities and had the best return average, but that's not saying much. His 5.7 yards per return needs to be improved upon and that may be another thing that we won't fix until this Summer. But Embree said they will be working on punting and returning punts this spring, so we'll see who they use.