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2019 Spring Preview: Special Teams

2019 Spring Preview: Special Teams

Stefan Adams
Additions: None

Departures: Zach Feagles (Transfer), Jordan Butler (Graduation)

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 Jack Spicer returns and will have the punting job to himself this spring after splitting time with the since transferred Zach Feagles in 2018. However, Spicer 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. Whichever style he uses this spring and beyond, UM recruited JUCO punter Louis Hedley from Australia in the 2019 class and he will come in during the summer with every opportunity to take Spicer’s job.

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 beginning this spring. 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 spring 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.

Sophomore Clay James was given a scholarship over the off-season and will handle the long snapping duties with the graduation of Jordan Butler.


Bottom Line

Special teams, and more specifically the punting game, are going to be a main point of emphasis over the off-season 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. 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. If Spicer doesn’t take full command of the job and show massive improvement this spring, the job will be all Hedley’s in the summer.

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. 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 this spring to feel confident in their prospects next season.
 

Comments (27)

If Hedley is even an average punter, it would be a huge improvement over last year.

I know it's a bit of a running joke about us being "punter U" but we've been lucky to have a lot of great punters and kickers over the years. Baxa was very solid as a freshman kicker and should only be better with another year in the system.
 
I just don't understand why Feagles was as bad as he was. Its like he got the yips the moment he stepped on campus. His dad was a 22 year NFL punter and holds the record for most punting yards! Zach went to all the camps and was ranked as a top 5 punter. So its not like Hartley's coaching could've ruined him. There wasn't a single reason for him to have been THAT bad.

Wtf happened?!
 
I just don't understand why Feagles was as bad as he was. Its like he got the yips the moment he stepped on campus. His dad was a 22 year NFL punter and holds the record for most punting yards! Zach went to all the camps and was ranked as a top 5 punter. So its not like Hartley's coaching could've ruined him. There wasn't a single reason for him to have been THAT bad.

Wtf happened?!
Watch the way he dropped the ball. Kicked the nose of the ball all the time.
 
Baxa only attempted 12 field goals all of last year. 164 kickers attempted more, which is noteworthy when you think of the fact there aren't even 164 FBS teams.

We need to trust him more in 2019.
 
Also would like to see us dominate on kickoff coverage again. Used to be one of my favorite units to watch, usually loaded with future athletes
 
Also would like to see us dominate on kickoff coverage again. Used to be one of my favorite units to watch, usually loaded with future athletes
I saw a highlight of a 2000-2001 game I think and there were pro bowlers all over the field on kickoff coverage. Even KWjr was knocking off heads on kickoffs. The Sean Taylor’s and antrell rolles made their names on specials. Kids gotta take pride in this stuff man. I bet a senior Ed reed would have said yes in a heartbeat if coach asked him to fly down and take someone’s head off.
 
Watch the way he dropped the ball. Kicked the nose of the ball all the time.
I thought that too but another member here explained it. Kickers purposefully kick the ball like that when they're attempting pin the opponent near the goal line. When they're trying to boom one as far as possible, they kick it the traditional way. I'm not sure how it works or why they do it but I do remember somebody who was more versed in punting than me explaining it to me like that.
 
I just don't understand why Feagles was as bad as he was. Its like he got the yips the moment he stepped on campus. His dad was a 22 year NFL punter and holds the record for most punting yards! Zach went to all the camps and was ranked as a top 5 punter. So its not like Hartley's coaching could've ruined him. There wasn't a single reason for him to have been THAT bad.

Wtf happened?!

it was all mental with him.

you watch him in practice and workouts, and the kid is skying 45-50 yard kicks. in games, he just froze, and you wonder if it's not some random dude back there who kidnapped feagles and stole his jersey.

too bad.
 
Yeah thinking it was a combination of the yips and Hartley’s horrific ST coaching that got into Feagles head and he just couldn’t get out of his own way. I look to see markedly improved ST’s this season under Patke. His attention to detail is better and I think he will have the team ready to go especially if we put some starters back on kickoff coverage duty. With our improved speed I can see us performing well there. As to returns, we did well on PR’s but did not at KR. Again, I have a feeling Patke will have this solved for the upcoming season.
 
it was all mental with him.

you watch him in practice and workouts, and the kid is skying 45-50 yard kicks. in games, he just froze, and you wonder if it's not some random dude back there who kidnapped feagles and stole his jersey.

too bad.
45-50 yards from where he's kicking it maybe, but that only equals a 30-35 yard in-game punt after the snap. I saw him in pregame warmups vs LSU. He was kicking it from 8 yards deep in the end zone to the 40-45.

Hedley can't get here fast enough.
 
Yeah thinking it was a combination of the yips and Hartley’s horrific ST coaching that got into Feagles head and he just couldn’t get out of his own way. I look to see markedly improved ST’s this season under Patke. His attention to detail is better and I think he will have the team ready to go especially if we put some starters back on kickoff coverage duty. With our improved speed I can see us performing well there. As to returns, we did well on PR’s but did not at KR. Again, I have a feeling Patke will have this solved for the upcoming season.

I think Patke will help simplify ST.
Hartley ran a ton of things and made it complicated.
Watch this season.
We go simple.
  • Blast kickoffs through the endzone, no returns.
  • Work Louis up to pin punts with head hunters gunning& running down field.
  • Have DeeJay and JT run back punts for TDs like we did the last few games.
  • Have an offense that if they arent scoring TDs get us close so Baxa can kick more FGs.

Simple yet effective..... is my hope anyways!!!!!
 

2022 Commits

WR
6'2"
185
Nashville, TN
CB
6'0"
160
Lexington, MS
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205
Valdosta, GA
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175
Fort Myers, FL
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185
Mandeville, LA
MLB
6'1"
210
Manvel, TX
OT
6'7"
275
Sandersville, GA

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