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2019 Fall Camp Preview: ST

2019 Fall Camp Preview: ST

Stefan Adams
Summer Additions: Louis Hedley (JUCO transfer)

Summer Departures: None

Special teams as a unit was an unmitigated disaster in 2018, especially in the punting game. Miami punters often times failed to flip the field, and UM’s coverage units generally did a poor job covering those short punts, setting up plenty of short fields for opposing offenses and allowing a return touchdown to FSU. The Canes will hope new special teams coordinator Jon Patke has some ideas on how to fix the issues that arguably cost Miami a few games last season.

5th year senior punter Jack Spicer returns but did not inspire a lot of confidence last season after finishing last in the ACC among qualified punters in yards per punt with 37.7, a full two yards behind the next closest player, and the Canes as a team finished 118th out of 130 FBS programs in yards per punt with 38.3. Spicer switched to a more side run-up, line-drive approach towards the end of the year and that seemed to be slightly more effective for him. However, all eyes will be on JUCO transplant Louis Hedley in fall camp, who came in this summer gunning to take Spicer’s job. The expectation is that the fan favorite from Australia will open the season as UM’s starting punter and that is precisely why the Canes brought Hedley in. Hedley comes in as a redshirt sophomore and recorded a 38.6 ypp average at the City College of San Francisco.

Even though many expected some freshman hiccups, kicker Bubba Baxa was relatively quiet last season, most definitely a positive attribute for any kicker. Baxa connected on 9-12 (75%) FG’s, having one blocked, and kicked a long of 47 yards against Virginia, with his 75% efficiency tying him for 6th in the ACC in 2018. He was also near automatic on extra points at 45-46 (98%), and booted the majority of his kickoffs (41-69) into the endzone for touchbacks. Now with a year under his belt and certainly all of the freshman jitters out of his system, Baxa is looking to take that next step from merely good to great in 2019. He already has the leg, and his accuracy has improved greatly from his senior season of HS.

DeeJay Dallas and Jeff Thomas split both the punt and kick return jobs relatively evenly in 2018, and they were the highlight of the special teams unit. Both took punts back for touchdowns last season, and both would have finished in the top 5 nationally in yards per return if they had enough returns to qualify individually; collectively, Miami was 3rd in the country in yards per punt return with 20.8. The kick return game was less inspiring at times in terms of decision-making, but still finished 26th in the nation at 23.2 yards per kick return. The pair could be challenged this fall by grad transfer WR KJ Osborn, who returned kicks and punts for Buffalo last season and finished 15th in the country in yards per punt return with 10.3. Nigel Bethel and Mark Pope also got work at returner during the spring.

Sophomore Clay James was given a scholarship over the off-season and is all set to handle the long snapping duties.

Bottom Line

Special teams, and more specifically the punting game, are going to be a main point of emphasis in 2019 after the debacle that was 2018. The staff has a lot of confidence in Baxa to become one of the best kickers in the ACC. Now that he has been through a full season, Miami will be more likely to trust him in pressure situations in 2019.

Punter will be more worrisome, as Spicer really struggled badly most of last season and Hedley is unproven. This aspect of special teams was the main culprit of this group’s woes in 2018 and it’s hard to imagine they could be much worse in 2019; it simply must be fixed. It was great to see UM take the initiative and bring in new blood at the spot, but Hedley is going to have to improve on his 38.6 ypp average in JUCO for Miami to see a real difference here.

The return game has the potential to be truly dynamic, with three proven returners in Dallas, Thomas, and Osborn. However, all three will play big roles on the offense this season, so coaches may want to limit their exposure on special teams, which is why Bethel and Pope saw some reps here in spring. It will be interesting to see if there is a primary guy in either return spot, or if Patke goes with more of a rotation.

Put it all together, and the Hurricanes have a special teams crew that has promise, but truly has to show improvement as an entire unit in camp to feel confident in their prospects this season.

Comments (9)

Our special teams play equated to having multiple turnovers each game. The field position battle was lost just about every Saturday and Imo it was almost as damaging as the QB play.

More of the same can cost us what's looking like a promising season.

This is a must fix.
Well done, Stefan. Great write up and right on point. I hope Hedley can improve on his 38.6 yd. ave. also. If not, we are only gaining 1 yard from Spiker. Who knows, maybe Spiker ends up improving by 4 yd. and he keeps the job! Wouldn't that be a kick in the balls.
I’m worried Headley is a lot of hype. His yardage is not impressive but I am saying that based on watching very little film of his.
I’m worried Headley is a lot of hype. His yardage is not impressive but I am saying that based on watching very little film of his.
His stats say that too, Miami04. Hope we get a improvement in stats from him.
38.8 with a long hang time is better then what we had last year. He also is supposed to be accurate in kicking OOB inside the 20.

One thing I see about all these clips we see of him punting, is the amount of time it takes for him to start stepping up to kick the ball. That **** is getting blocked every time if he doesn't hurry it up
One thing I see about all these clips we see of him punting, is the amount of time it takes for him to start stepping up to kick the ball. That **** is getting blocked every time if he doesn't hurry it up
noticed that too, hope is was because it wasn't a direct snap. If not he need some coaching to do it quick without hurrying.
Yea the long snapper and timing will be huge for making sure he gets that ball off.. That will be something big to watch in a 1st game as we dont have a warm up

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