January 22, 2010

Outlook for 2010 special teams has hope, concern

Here is the second installment of my series looking at 2010 projections for each position group on the team. Today, it's special teams. And while UT should be a monster on kick returns next season, there is reason for concern in other areas.

POSITION: Special teams

PLAYERS LOST:

-- K Hunter Lawrence
(24 of 27 FGs, 88.9 percent, in 2009; and 34 of 39 career, 87.2 percent)

--PR/KR/Holder Jordan Shipley (PR - 24 for 311 yards, 13.0 ypr, 2 TD, long of 74 yds; KR - 4 for 74, 18.5 ypr)

--PR Earl Thomas (3 for 54 yards, 18.0 ypr, long of 50)

--K Ryan Bailey (25 of 30 FGs, career, 83.3 percent)

--Deep snapper on punts William Harvey

--P Colt McCoy (4 punts, 32.8 yards per punt with 4 downed inside the opponent's 20)



PLAYERS RETURNING:

--P/K Justin Tucker, Jr.
(43 punts in 2009, 40.4 yards per punt with 15 inside the opponent's 20 and a long of 60; 62.3 yards per kickoff, 14 TB; 2 rushes for 9 yards)

--Holder Sherrod Harris, Sr.

--P John Gold, Sr. (15 punts in 2009, 44.1 yards per punt with 4 inside the opponent's 20 and a long of 53)

--KR/PR Marquise Goodwin, So. (KR - 16 for 349 yards in 2009, 21.8 ypr, 1 TD, long of 95 yds; PR - 1 for 22 yards)

--KR D.J. Monroe, So. (16 returns for 537 yards, 33.6 ypr, 2 TD, long of 91 yards)

--KR Malcolm Williams, Jr. (4 returns for 106 yards, 26.5 ypr, long of 35 yards)

--KR Aaron Williams, Jr. (1 return for 27 yards)

--PR Curtis Brown, Sr. (1 return for 5 yards)



2009 HIGHLIGHTS:

--D.J. Monroe's 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the season opener against ULM (Special teams TD No. 1)

--Jordan Shipley
46-yard punt return for a TD against Texas Tech, putting UT up 7-3 in the first quarter (Special teams TD No. 2)

--D.J. Monroe's 91-yard kickoff return for a TD in the first quarter against UTEP (Special teams TD No. 3)

--Marquise Goodwin
blocks a punt and Ben Wells' returns it 3 yards for a TD, putting Texas up 17-14 with 8:49 in the third quarter against Colorado (Special teams TD No. 4)

--Jordan Shipley
74-yard punt return for a TD, putting Texas up 31-14 in the fourth quarter against Colorado (Special teams TD No. 5)

--Hunter Lawrence kicking FGs against Oklahoma of 42 yards (3:42 of the second quarter to cut OU's lead to 6-3), 42 yards (12:29 of the third quarter, tying the game 6-6); and 32 yards (12:08 left in the game, putting Texas up 16-13).

--Justin Tucker averaged 45.4 yards per punt against OU, helping change field position, including a season-best 60-yarder and three punts that pinned the Sooners inside their own 20.

--Curtis Brown blocked a punt against Missouri, and Malcolm Williams recovered the ball in the end zone (Special teams TD No. 6)

--Hunter Lawrence kicking FGs of 49, 47 and 35 yards against Kansas

--Marquise Goodwin 95-yard kickoff return for TD against Texas A&M, giving UT a 49-39 lead with 6:57 left. (Special teams TD No. 7)

--Hunter Lawrence
hitting two FGs vs. Nebraska in the Big 12 title game, including a 46-yarder as time expires to win the game, 13-12.


2009 LOWLIGHTS:

--Justin Tucker's 5-yard run off the goal line on a fake punt against Wyoming, resulting in a short-field FG for the Cowboys

--Wyoming blocking a punt for a touchdown, giving the Cowboys a 10-6 lead in the second quarter

--Hunter Lawrence having a FG attempt blocked by Colorado

--Dezmon Briscoe of Kansas returning a kick 98 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of a 51-20 Texas victory.

--Justin Tucker's partially blocked punt vs. Nebraska in the Big 12 title game, it totaled 7 yards.


2010 OUTLOOK:

This is actually a considerable area of concern when you talk about replacing one of the best return men (Jordan Shipley) in the game and the best field goal kicker of the Mack Brown Era.

Earl Thomas figured to replace Shipley on punt returns in 2010 until he bolted for the NFL. Now, there will be great competition for the job, including Marquise Goodwin, Curtis Brown, Aaron Williams, D.J. Monroe (if he catches the ball better) and DeSean Hales.

The replacement kicking field goals will be Justin Tucker, who now assumes field goal and punting chores, unless Mack Brown decides to scale back Tucker's punting chores and hand those over to Gold.

Tucker now has to be the guy who follows the guy. Lawrence proved to be one of the most clutch kickers in Texas history when you consider him going 6-of-6 on field goals against Oklahoma in 2008 and 2009 (his only two years as the starter) and his game-winner for this year's Big 12 title.

During his career at Westlake, Tucker made 30 of 44 FG attempts and 155 of 162 PAT attempts.

Lawrence leaves a sizable legacy, having just set the school record for points by a placekicker in a season (134); made field goals in a season (24); and career FG accuracy (34 of 39, 87.2 percent).

Second place on that list, coincidentally, belongs to Ryan Bailey (25 of 30, 83.3 percent), who also moves on. Kris Stockton (58 of 77, 75.3 percent) is No. 3 on that list, followed by No. 4 Phil Dawson (59 of 79, 74.7 percent) and a tie for No. 5 between Scott Szeredy (32 of 43, 74.4 percent) and Jeff Ward (58 of 78, 74.4 percent).

Sherrod Harris will be the new holder, and he seems to have great chemistry with short snapper Greg Smith. I know this because I watched Harris dogpile Smith at midfield after Hunter Lawrence's game-winner against Nebraska. Harris was yelling, "Great snap! Great snap! No one thanks the snapper!!!" It was hilarious.

UT should be fine punting the ball because you figure Tucker or Gold will simply get better in 2010, but Texas will have to break in a new long snapper as William Harvey moves on. The leader going into the spring is walk-on Alex Zumberge.

Mack loves to find a walk-on who can focus exclusively on long-snapping. Among those Mack has cultivated are Cullen Loeffler, who is in his sixth year as the starting long snapper for the Minnesota Vikings.

One other punting note: don't discount losing Colt McCoy as a pooch punter (even though he had only four attempts, including two downed inside the 20 against Nebraska in the Big 12 title game. Garrett Gilbert will need to warm up his leg.)

When it comes to punt block/punt return, that unit should continue to have plenty of playmakers, although losing Shipley and Thomas is a huge blow. The big threats to block a punt are back in 2010: Goodwin, A.Williams, Curtis Brown and Malcolm Williams.

I would love to see Aaron Williams get a chance to return punts if Duane Akina feels comfortable enough to take him off the line because of his punt-blocking abilities. All Aaron Williams seems to do is make plays.

Texas could well lead the country in kick returns next season with Goodwin and Monroe back again to wreak havoc. Should be exciting.


PROJECTION FOR 2010 RIGHT NOW:

K- Justin Tucker

P -Tucker or John Gold

PR - Curtis Brown or Aaron Williams

KR - Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Monroe

Short snapper - Greg Smith

Long snapper - Alex Zumberge

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