The first part of the 2014 Position Preview features the specialists. With two All-Big 12 caliber performers, some good options at another position, and a brand-new kicker, there is somethings to really like about this position group and some big question marks for this year and going forward.
CURRENT STARTERS – 8
|45.8 yards per punt in 2013||Texas First Team All-State Kicker (TAPPS) in 2012||51 career punt returns, 9.5 yards, 2 TDs||No stats|
This is a group of players that has dependable stars at two positions, and two newcomers at the other two positions. Spencer Roth is one of the best punters in college football, increasing his yards per punt every season over his first three campaigns. He has also improved his hang-time and ability to pin opponents deep inside their own territory. The returning first team All-Big 12 punter is the best punter in the Big 12 and is a great weapon that the Bears seldom utilize.
On the other end of the punting game is returner Levi Norwood, who has been the primary punt returner for the past 3 seasons. His first two years, he was primarily depended on to simply make the safe play and get the ball back to the offense. However, last year, Norwood was able to display some big-play ability and return 2 punts for touchdowns, including a game-changing one against Texas Tech.
While the punting game is in proven hands, the Bears will have a big question mark in the kicking game. Redshirt Freshman Chris Callahan will take over the place-kicking duties following the graduation of all-time leading scorer Aaron Jones graduated. Callahan was one of the top kickers in the country as a senior, but is not a proven commodity yet.
The Bears will also have some question marks at kick returner, a position that they have surprisingly struggled to get good results at. With the athleticism and speed the Bears have at the skill positions, it is quite perplexing how they have not been able to find a good kick returner the last few years. The Bears might have a tremendous weapon at their disposal, but he might be taking on too large of a role at wide receiver. Corey Coleman displayed tremendous ability in the return game last year.
However, Robbie Rhodes and Johnny Jefferson are listed at the top of the depth chart after spring practice. Rhodes handled kickoff returns in high school quite a bit, and has the speed, agility and fearlessness you need in a good returner.
POSITIONAL DEPTH - 5
|Kickers and Punters|
With just 1 punter on the roster, and just 2 total kickers on scholarship, this is a position destined to not have much depth. If Spencer Roth were to be injured, Chris Callahan would probably do double duty and the Bears would get by. If Callahan were to get injured, Kyle Peterson would step in. Neither option is great, but both could be at least a decent job.
The options at the return positions though are bountiful, as the Bears recruiting has continued to add high caliber athletes with experience in high school returning kicks. Baylor would also have the services of a dangerous weapon like Corey Coleman if the coaching staff wanted to use him in a high leverage situation. This is a group with a lot of talent, but very little collegiate production, outside of Norwood.
CLASS BALANCE - 4
As you can see in the chart above, the balance is quite lacking for the kicking portion of the roster. The Bears have a single punter on the team, though starting kicker Chris Callahan did perform well as a punter in high school. The kicker situation is a bit better with the Callahn being just a freshman, and a junior and another freshman on the roster with him. Callahan is the only one on scholarship, as the Bears have usually just kept two scholarships tied up with kickers and punters.
The return position is hard to gauge with class balance. Usually, younger players looking for a role, or a quality backup veteran at a skill position is asked to carry the largest load on returns. See Corey Coleman and Darius Jones last year as perfect examples of both of those at the kick returner spot. Now that Coleman is taking on a larger role at wide receiver, someone else will need to step up. The Bears have the athletes to find someone to do this job moving forward.
NEXT YEAR - 6
The Bears will be without multi-year starters at punter and punt returner with the graduation of Spencer Roth and Levi Norwood. The current backup at punt returner is a walk-on backup wide receiver, and that is quite a bit better than the backup situation at punter which is nonexistent. These are two areas that Bears will have to search for answers. The next punt returner is probably on the roster right now, while the next punter is more than likely no on campus right now.
The good news for next year is that the Bears should have some great options returning at kicker and kick returner. Chris Callahan will be just a sophomore and the Bears will have plenty of tremendous options to return kickoffs due to the athletes they are bringing to campus.
FUTURE YEARS – 3
The same question about next year applies to future years with the punting position. The Bears have no great options at this point, other than Chris Callahan doing double-duty, something that a few colleges have done the past few years. It could also be something the Bears look at, simply because they utilize their punter so little. It will be harder and harder to find quality punters if they know they will only be asked to punt around 50 times per year. The national leader last year punted 86 times to compare.
Kicker should be in a much better spot with Callahan having 3 more years after this upcoming season. Of course, his performance as a whole is a big question mark, but he should improve over the next few years. The return game should also be in good hands, with young recruits like JaMycal Hasty and John Humphrey committed to the Bears to offer intriguing return specialist options.
IMPORTANCE – 1
Special teams is the other "third" of the game of football, but in the world of Baylor football, specialists are somewhat limited. Punter get minimal duty, kickers are usually asked to simply make 40 yards and under kicks and their extra points and returners are pretty much held to the expectation of don't give the ball back or make it too hard on the offense. Yes, the Bears would like, and often get more than that minimal expectation, but as we have seen in the past, when they do not have a better option, they will resort to the safest options.
TOTAL - 27
Overall, this is a position that is just not key for the Bears. Having no punter on the roster for 2015 hurts the score considerably, as well as finding someone to replace the dependable and sure-handed Levi Norwood, has has stabilized a position that was hurting the Bears before he played. The kicking position is also a big question mark, but at least Bear fans know that Callahan will be around for a few years, good or bad.