When Jerry Kill became the head coach at the University of Minnesota, one of the first things he mentioned as needing improvement was the kicking game and specifically in the area of punting. In fact, the new head man said he was personally going to oversee the kickers and punters.
With just one week remaining until the 2011 season kicks off, Kill has lived up to his word. He is on the field early every day working with the punters and kickers. He often stays after practice talking to or working with them. He even holds position-group meetings with them, much like the running backs coach does with those players.
While Kill has personally overseen the development of the kickers and punters, secondary coach Jay Sawvel also holds the title of Special Teams Coordinator and has the responsibility for all the special teams units.
We won't know what the results will be until they see live action in games. But Sawvel thinks the punters have done a nice job through camp.
""Dan (Orseske) is a good punter. (David) Schwerman's a good punter," Sawvel said. "We've got guys who can punt the ball. What you've got to do is get them to where they feel comfortable. That's protection, that's getting people down the field coverage-wise."
But just the ability of a punter to kick the ball a country mile doesn't ensure good punting. Sawvel said the entire unit has to function well.
"You've got to be good in all the moving parts," Sawvel said. "It's not just about the punter. There are so many other things that go with it. That's always a work in progress. We're continuing that each and every day. It's improving. But it's obviously a major area of need. That was one of our first things we felt we needed to address as a team. You can't be 120th out of 120 in net punting and have a successful football team."
Meanwhile, the placekicking game seems to be in good hands right now as well. Transfer Chris Hawthorne comes to Minnesota from North Carolina State. But he has battled with walk-on Jordan Wettstein throughout camp.
Sawvel had many positive things to say about that duo.
"(The kickers) have had a good camp," he said. "They've been accurate on field goals, had good timing on field goals. We feel good about the fact that we can put them in a game situation and they'll be ready. Both of our guys who are kicking, for the most part, have done very well. Kickoffs have been in good locations and had good distance. Right now, we're optimistic that kicker-wise, we're going to be pretty solid."
Of course, the timing Sawvel mentioned on field goals and point-after-touchdowns wouldn't happen without the long snapper and the holder. Jake Filkins returns after gaining good experience as a long snapper last season. Red-shirt freshman Dave Ramlet has also had a nice camp at that position. Backup quarterback Adam Lueck should once again be the holder, after "holding" down that role in 2010.
One area the Gophers shouldn't need to worry about when it comes to special teams is the return game. Senior cornerback Troy Stoudermire has been one of the most prolific kick returners in the nation for the past few years. In fact, he has a chance to finish his Gopher career with a couple NCAA records, if everything falls into place correctly. Stoudermire has also been working on returning punts, along with a number of his teammates.