Aug. 20, 2014
The Golden Gophers’ kick return and blocked field goal return touchdowns in the third quarter against UNLV last year, and the great punting in the win against Penn State, are just a few examples of the way special teams can change a game. Minnesota returns some key special teams players, including punter Peter Mortell and returner Marcus Jones, but will need to replace its kicker and long snapper.
With the graduation of Chris Hawthorne, all of the Gopher kickers are true or redshirt freshmen. Redshirt freshmen Ryan Santoso and Andrew Harte are the two favorites dueling to replace Hawthorne. Santoso has a big leg and said he hit a 70-yard field goal in high school. He has hit from 50-plus yards during camp, but has also focused on becoming more consistent on shorter kicks.
Harte may not have the same range as Santoso, but he has been accurate on short and mid-distance kicks. Perhaps the best demonstration of Harte’s consistency is the streak of 112 consecutive PATs he made in high school.
Emmit Carpenter, a true freshman, will also contend for placekicking duties. He was rated the No. 19 kicker in the nation by Kohl’s. Redshirt freshman Justin Juenemann is another option for the Gophers. As a senior, he led the state of Kansas in touchbacks, kickoff yards and points, also making 80 percent of his field goal attempts between 40 and 50 yards.
On the punting side, Mortell is back as a junior after an impressive first season as the Gophers’ punter. He ranked third in the Big Ten with an average punt of 43.3 yards and placed 21 punts inside the 20-yard line. Mortell has also handled holding duties for the past two seasons. He is on the preseason watch list for the Ray Guy Award.
Christian Eldred, who was the Gophers’ primary punter two years ago, has boomed some punts in camp but will have a tough task unseating Mortell. True freshman Logan McElfresh and Santoso are the Gophers’ other punters.
Jake Filkins’ departure leaves the long snapper position open. Redshirt senior Dave Ramlet converted two snaps last season. He is the most experienced long snapper on the roster, as redshirt junior Jared Hartman and freshman Payton Jordahl have yet to see game action.
On the returns, Minnesota has a weapon in redshirt senior Marcus Jones. He returned a kick and a punt for touchdowns last season, showing that two ACL surgeries did not take away his speed. Jones made the majority of the Gophers’ returns last year, averaging 28.5 yards per kickoff return.
There are eight days until the Gophers kick off against Eastern Illinois. Those days will be used to settle remaining lineup questions, including who will be making that kick.
From earlier in camp:
Game 4: Minnesota at Penn State
Minnesota opens Big Ten play at Penn State on Saturday, Oct. 1. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network and can be heard on KFAN.
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