Season Preview: Special Teams

Wrapping up the entire ASU 2009 preview, Joe Healey examines the Sun Devils' Special Teams Unit.

Kicker/Punter

It is a challenge for any kicker to follow a season that includes the accomplishment of becoming the nation's first freshman Lou Groza Award winner; however Thomas Weber remained one of the nation's premier kickers as a sophomore in 2008 and projects as one of the country's top players at the position entering his junior season in 2009.

A first-team All-American and first-team All-Pac-10 honoree in 2007 and an honorable mention All-Pac-10 recipient last year, Weber has two-year totals of 43-of-50 on field goals (86.0 pct.) with a career long of 53 yards at UCLA in 2007. Additionally, three of Weber's kicks were blocked last year, producing only four career field goal attempts that have sailed wide or fallen short of the goal posts.

Many preseason publications predict that Weber will be an All-America caliber performer again this season, and to his credit he adds high-level accomplishments in the classroom, earning second-team Pac-10 All-Academic prestige both seasons at ASU.

There is no doubting Weber's ability on field goals, extra points and kickoffs, and while he has made marked improvement in his punting productivity, the staff may entertain options to lighten to load on ASU's star kicker.

After assuming punting duties from senior Jonathan Johnson in 2007, Weber has punted 106 times with a 40.5-yard average. However, as any football tactician will explain, requiring an athlete to handle all kicking duties can be a taxing request, creating an interest for an alternative at punter to enable Weber to focus solely on placekicking.

Walk-on Trevor Hankins, a junior originally from Scottsdale, Ariz., appeared in two games, Oregon and Oregon State, in 2008, averaging 37.1 yards on seven punts. He will continue to compete for time with Weber, although at the conclusion of spring drills Hankins was still listed second on the depth chart at the position.

The Sun Devils also may add an invited walk-on into the mix for fall camp which may impact the competition at punter for the 2009 season, but Weber remains the top option at punter as fall camp begins.

Punt/Kickoff Returns

Beside Weber, the clear special teams standout on the Sun Devil squad is senior Kyle Williams, one of the nation's elite punt return specialists.

A dynamic and threatening wide receiver, Williams uses his big-play skills to the best of his ability on special teams. A first-team All-Pac-10 member at punt returner in 2007 after averaging 9.7 yards on 23 punt returns, Williams strangely earned only honorable mention All-Pac-10 accolades in 2008 despite leading the conference with a tremendous 17.0-yard average on 14 returns, the fourth-highest punt return average in the nation.

Speedy, agile and fearless on returns, Williams has the ability to turn what seems to be a minimal gain into a sizeable one. With a career average of 10.6-yards on 53 career punt returns, Williams returns for 2009 as ASU's top option at the position and looks to continue to be a fearsome gamebreaker on special teams.

No reserves were listed behind Williams at punt returner after spring drills, and with the departure of Nate Kimbrough from 2008, ASU will need to supply new depth in the event that a substitute is needed.

Wide receiver Chris McGaha has career experience both in kickoff and punt returns; however it is questionable whether he will be involved in special teams due to his recent injury history and prominent offensive role.

At the conclusion of spring drills, the two leading candidates for kickoff returns are A.J. Pickens and Keelan Johnson, each about to begin his redshirt freshman season at ASU.

Pickens, a wide receiver by trade and Johnson, beginning his career at safety, both offer athleticism and played multiple positions on offense, defense and special teams at the high school level, provoking great interest in their special teams talents at the college level. Likely to be reserves at their respective positions, they can provide freshness to the special teams efforts.

In addition to his punt return talents, Kyle Williams was ASU's leading kickoff returner in 2008, averaging 23.3 yards on 27 returns. Although not listed on the spring depth chart at kickoff returner, Williams certainly has the talent and experience to excel at the position if needed.

Cornerback Omar Bolden, safety Clint Floyd and wide receiver T.J. Simpson each earned repetitions at kickoff returner in 2008 and may add depth on special teams this season. It may be questionable whether Bolden or Floyd may return kicks as they both have been limited by injuries during the conclusion of the 2008 and this past spring, and also figure to serve as starters in the secondary.

Other candidates for special teams returns duty may include junior college transfer, cornerback LeQuan Lewis, who excelled on kickoff returns at Cerritos (Calif.) College last year, as well as track and field standout, wide receiver Allante Battle.

Cornerbacks Deveron Carr and Terell Carr and wide receiver Brandon Smith have practiced on special teams at ASU, at the junior college level or at the high school level and could be possible special teams contributors this year.

True freshmen Jarrid Bryant and Jamal Miles, as well as incoming transfer Aaron Pflugrad, have excellent abilities on returns and may be factors in the future.

Long Snapper/Holder

Former walk-on Thomas Ohmart served as ASU's long snapper in all 12 games last year and performed at an excellent level, ultimately earning a scholarship from head coach Dennis Erickson.

Sophomore Clay Davie, son of former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie, and redshirt freshman Cameron Kastl, both walk-ons, are Ohmart's top reserves; however Ohmart is unlikely to be replaced unless injured.

Quarterback Danny Sullivan served as holder for Thomas Weber in all 12 games last year and is listed as the top option at the position for 2009, but it may be questionable whether he will remain on special teams if he is ASU's starting quarterback this year.

Reserve punter Trevor Hankins exited the spring as the top alternative to hold for kicks, while sophomore quarterback Samson Szakacsy may be capable of holding as well.


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