Colorado Buffaloes Roster Breakdown: Special Teams

While we weren't great on special teams last season, there is reason to be optimistic regarding this group in 2012. The addition of bigger, faster players and a general increase of team depth should help our coverage units and the blocking on our return units, and some consistency with our specialists should help us to improve our kicking and punting. Let's take a look at who those specialists are.

Snapper:

  • Ryan Iverson, Jr - He's now a Junior and is going into his 3rd season as the primary snapper for the punt teams & 2nd year snapping for the FG units. He has had some velocity issues with his snaps, but he seems to be improving. He's a smaller snapper, so he really needs to be quick and on the money with his snaps because there's no room for error as a blocker. I don't think he's in much danger of getting replaced, having held onto the job for the last two years, but I really want to see him get the ball back to his punter faster.

Follow the jump to see who is the most special on our team!

  • Keegan LaMar, RFr - He's a little bigger than Iverson and he's from Fairview, so he's a local kid. Walk-on.
  • Trevor Carver, Fr - Another local walk-on, this one from Monarch.
Kickers:
  • Justin Castor, Jr - He should be a sophomore, but he was yet another case of a mysterious Hawkins late-season redshirt-pulled-for-no-good-reason. He hasn't had many opportunities since he was allowed to try that one kick two years ago. The next guy on this list beat him out last year. But it sounds like they may try using him for longer FGs and he may have the inside track on kickoffs (despite his troubles with sending the ball out of bounds last season). Coaches have said that he's pushing Oliver, which is good. Hopefully he'll continue to get chances to contribute and he'll make the most of them. He made his one extra point attempt last year, but he sent the ball out of bounds on kickoffs something like 4 times.
  • Will Oliver, So - He won the FG kicking job outright as a True Freshman last year and started strong. He ended the year with a mediocre FG percentage, but has apparently been working on the height of his kicks, which will help prevent blocks (4 last season), as will improved blocking on the ST units. He mostly kept a cool head, even in his first year, and I think he has the tools to be a good college kicker. Watch the height on his first couple of kicks this year. If the first few are high enough, I think we'll be in for a good season from him. If they vary a lot, we may be in trouble. He also sent one of his kickoffs out of bounds last season.
Punters:
  • Zack Grossnickle, Jr - If you're counting, we're up to 3 scholarships devoted to Ks & Ps and we haven't yet listed the two primary guys. Despite having a huge leg, Grossnickle lost his job to a guy who had never played football last season. I hope he continues to push, and perhaps he'll find a role as the kickoff guy, but he seems to be lost in the group of specialists right now. This coaching staff went with their guys in Oliver & O'neill last year and it looks like it'll be those two guys again. But if Grossnickle can keep working on improving, hopefully he will get his chance to show off that leg in some facet of the game. He has shown the potential to have plus hangtime on his kicks, but is inconsistent with it.
  • Darragh O'Neill, So - Like Oliver, he had to deal with some blocking issues up front, so hopefully those are remedied, but he was fair-to-solid in his first year as the starting punter in 2011. He was asked to try rugby punts more often than we would've liked, so hopefully they'll drop that plan. I think he can be a good punter for us. He showed us he can boot the ball and at times, was able to put it where he wanted to. I wish we could be watching practices to see how he looks and how his hangtime is. If he can give us solid hangtime on his kicks with some consistency, I'll be happy, though I think on their best days, Grossnickle has the ability to kick higher and further than O'Neill, but we don't always get their best days. I want the baseline to be better from our punters, and that's why O'Neill took the job last year.
Holder/Pinner:
  • Justin Gorman, So - He was the Holder all year as a true freshman and he did a solid job. I also like him because he's a good athlete (he returned some kicks last season) and as a former QB, he gives us some options if they want to run a fake at some point.
Punt & Kick Returners:

In 2011, we were only able to return 13 punts because A) our defense didn't force many and B) our blocking was weak on the punt return team. Our defense will be improved and it sounds like our ST units should be as well. We only have heard some rumblings & seen some photos of the guys they are choosing between to return punts and kicks, so let me know if I'm missing anyone. Multiple guys now have said that Gerald Thomas is a true speedster, so I'm glad to hear they're giving him a look as the punt returner. He has the ability to make guys miss, which is key there. Kenneth Crawley also has a shot and is a fantastic athlete and is getting a look. Keenan Canty only returned 3 punts for 17 yards last season so I don't think that gives him any kind of advantage, but he has solid speed and quickness and may prove a capable returner. D.D. Goodson is the kind of guy who could be a pretty good punt returner. He's got fluid hips, the ability to explode once he turns them and he's not afraid of contact. I'm sure there are others, but my money is on one of those guys to take the job. Though I would love to see Donta Abron get a chance as well.

Eleven different players returned kicks for us last season (not including squib kicks fielded by blockers), seven of whom are back this year. But it may be a newbie who takes this job. Marques Mosley was the one guy they mentioned after our first scrimmage as having had a nice kickoff return. He has some wheels and I wouldn't be at all upset to see him take the job. I imagine Gerald Thomas & Dona Abron will get looks, along with some of the guys who we trotted out there last season. Josh Ford had the best average of the returning guys by a small margin and he has solid speed with the ability to make one cut and get up to full speed pretty quickly. Malcolm Creer returned 5 kicks in the two games he saw action in before the knee injury, but I would imagine that he won't be sent out on that unit until they are certain he's 100% recovered. D.D. Goodson and Tony Jones may get shots, but I think Jones will have his plate full as the starting RB and I think Goodson isn't quite as fast as some of the other guys on this list, though he has good short-area quickness. Again, there are others, but my money is on one of the guys listed above.

Really, I imagine both of these jobs will go to one of the first or second year guys. It's a speed thing at these spots, and I think the new kids are simply faster.

Blocking & Coverage Units:

The blockers for kicks and punts were a leaky bunch last season, so I'm hoping that gets shored up. That will hopefully lead to fewer rugby punts and close calls on the punt units, and should make a large difference (along with better height on kicks from Oliver) in the number of blocked kicks and close calls on the FG/PAT team. Since we haven't gotten to watch practices, I have no idea who they're using on these units, though it sounds like a number of freshmen will be thrown out there with some starters for a nice mix of athleticism and experience. Christian Powell was one guy that was mentioned as having a number of roles on special teams, and the more physical players like that we are using, the better we'll be. Speaking of Powell, using guys athletes like him and Nick Kasa as blockers for kicks and punts should help out our returners quite a bit. The improved depth of our roster should help all of these units out a lot. I'm excited to see who they send out come Sept. 1st.

Having specialists who have been out there before is a good thing for us, especially if they're cleaning up things like kick-height and details like that. Add a group of improved athletes into the mix on the coverage and blocking units plus quicker and faster returners and it won't be hard to imagine we'll be better across the board on special teams.

Previous Breakdowns:

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