A really ****** preview of the 2012 CU buffs football season- Part III: Special Teams
by, 08-17-2012 at 05:01 PM (850 Views)
In Part I we looked at Offense. Part II discussed the Defense. Now in Part II we turn toward the Special Teams.
One of the most frustrating things for Buff fans to see the past several seasons is CU not being elite on Special Teams. Buff football means great kicking and punting along with electric return men. Unless we see that, it just doesn't seem like we're watching our team.
The nightmare we had under Dandy Dan and the Riddler, where even Mason Crosby regressed his senior year, is finally being put to rest and we're about to see the real CU Special Teams return to Folsom.
At Kicker, we'll return Will "Ice Water" Oliver (So), who made 11/16 field goals last season (11/12 when he got the kick past the defensive line). That included going 5/6 from 40+. Reports from the offseason are that Oliver has focused on extending his comfort zone range to 57 yards and has also fixed problems with getting the ball up in a hurry. With the expected improvements, we should be looking at another CU kicker who will challenge for the Lou Groza Award in the coming years.
Backing up Oliver is Justin "Case" Castor (Jr). Castor's got a big leg and could see the field as a long-range specialist if the Buffs want to try to steal some points at the end of a half if set up just past midfield. Castor will also return to his role as kickoff specialist. With the new rules, we may be seeing a lot of kickoffs through the end zone and the other team starting drives at the 25. Castor's got to work on his directional kickoffs (no more Out of Bounds!) and hang time, though, if coaches want to go with the option of hang time and good coverage trying to stick teams deep in their own end. (Yeah, I know - interesting word choice and completely intentional. ).
At Punter, we'll see the return of Darragh "Ambi-Foot" O'Neill (So) who - you heard it here first - can punt with both his right foot and his left foot.
I'll give you a moment to digest this revelation.
O'Neill, plagued by fans shouting "Ole! Ole!" during his freshman season, had an up and down year. When he was good, he was very good. A plus athlete at the position who is fairly new to football but starred in soccer and basketball in high school, O'Neill is capable of developing into one of the best Punters in the Pac-12. The major areas he focused on this offseason were flexibility/core strength to improve hang time (4.4 - 4.6 second range - elite is 4.6 - 4.8) and improving his directional punting -- especially to the left side of the field. Expect to see a lot more fair catches from opponents this season, especially with improved speed and depth on the coverage team. The biggest thing O'Neill showed in 2011 is that he's clutch enough for the big moments, as some of his best punts were in pressure situations.
Backing up O'Neill and also serving as a backup on kickoffs and emergency depth on field goals is Zach "Of All Trades" Grossnickle (Jr), who can be relied on if needed. A starter as a freshman, Grossnickle actually was the most impressive Punter by the number during the spring. Also a plus athlete for the position, Zach may be the best Ultimate Frisbee player on the team. And we all know how important that sport is at Colorado.
Also returning as a starter is Snapper Ryan "Bulls-Eye" Iverson (So), who showed consistency as a freshman. Unlike his more famous namesake, Iverson is actually a practice workaholic.
Last, we'll take a quick look at our Returners. For the first time in a long time, the Buffs have depth here. Freshmen such as Kenneth "Creepy" Crawley, Gerald "No Doubting" Thomas and sophomores D.D. "TD" Goodson and Keenan "Like Taking" Canty will compete for the jobs on Punt and Kickoff Returns. They should quickly make us think back to the days of Bloom, Kelly and Branch and forget the nightmare of Kickoff Returns being handled by walk ons while "Punt Return" was synonymous with "Just catch it. Gaining yards isn't important."
Expect a ton of improvement in 2012 as JD Brookhart's Special Teams units turn the tables and make the difference in a couple Buff wins - the way it should be