Offseason Position Preview: Special Teams
July 9, 2013
This challenge is especially real for the Minnesota special teams this offseason. As the Gophers look to improve in that area, defensive backs and special teams coach Jay Sawvel sees competition as a key to push veterans and newcomers alike to become better.
FOCUS ON: RETURNS
Several returning players, including sophomore KJ Maye and junior Marcus Jones, caught kicks or punts last season. Junior Cedric Thompson did some catching during spring practice, and Sawvel said he will likely continue to work on it in the fall. Returns could also be something the Gophers ask freshmen to do, depending on how they progress.
Senior Chris Hawthorne is the only kicker on the Gopher roster with collegiate kicking experience. He saw limited action last year, as Jordan Wettstein was the starting kicker. Although he is a senior and has college experience, Hawthorne will face tough competition in the fall.
“That’s a big open book right now, who will be our kicker and who will be our punter, because those are things I couldn’t tell you right now,” Sawvel said.
Junior Christian Eldred accounted for all but two of the Gophers’ punts in 2012, but newcomers will challenge him, as well.
NEW FACES TO WATCH
“We’ve got three freshmen that’ll be on campus this fall that are going to have every opportunity to compete and get that type of job,” Sawvel said. “I think, probably more than anything, that’s what we need. We need serious competition. We’ve got to get better in that. We need to take the same kind of step in the kicking game that we did defensively last year.”
Ryan Santoso, ranked the seventh-best kicker in the nation by ESPN, signed with the Gophers in February. As a senior, he was perfect on PATs and made 14 of 17 field goals, including a long of 42 yards. Santoso could contend for playing time both placekicking and punting.
Andrew Harte and Justin Juenemann also join the Gopher roster. During his senior season, Harte made a 54-yard field goal and held a kickoff average of 65 yards. Going back to the previous year, he rattled off a streak of 112 made PATs.
Junemann made 80 percent of his career field goal attempts between 40 and 50 yards, including a long of 46 yards. He was 84-of-92 on PATs during his last two seasons.
Kyle Fodness will also compete for a spot. The high school soccer standout redshirted his true freshman season in 2012 after his first season playing football.