2008 Preview: Special Teams

Under Assistant Coach John Baxter Fresno State's special teams have been excellent. While the ‘Dogs return the nation's top kick returner this season, the rest of the unit will be filled with new starters including the long-snapper. Moreover, for the first time in Pat Hill's 12 years, a freshman kicker will be the called upon to do the job…

Kicker: RFr. Kevin Goessling (6-0, 190)
2007 season stats: N/A
Post-spring grade: B

Goessling steps into a situation unbeknown to Bulldog football in the Coach Pat Hill era. In his 12 years as head coach Hill has not started a freshman kicker. Three times Hill has started sophomores, and each went on to become three-year starters.

Goessling had a decent spring, hitting four of five field goals in the spring game missing a 51-yarder. His length strength may be the only question mark. He was arguably one of the top 10 kickers coming out of Anaheim (Calif.) Servite in 2007. He will have no tune ups this season. Saying his first collegiate game will be a revelation would be an understatement. From his spring, anything within 40 yards should be automatic.

Punter: So. Robert Malone (6-2, 215)
2007 season stats: 2 punts, 72 yds
Post-spring game: B

Malone was the starting punter as a true freshman in 2006. He was pushed into the starting role at the last minute due to a back injury to starter Mike Lingua. Malone punted in the first four games of the season until he was sidelined with a season-ending injury. He averaged 37.2 ypp on 20 attempts before being granted a medical redshirt. Last season, he was beat out by Kyle Zimmerman for the starting job.

Malone spent last season as the placeholder on PATs and field goals. A role he is expected to continue this season. His length strength is not a concern, but his hang time is. He can punt the football in excess of 50 yards, his career long is 53 yards. However, the Bulldogs punt game is good hang time to negate net return yards. He has spent two seasons working on it, and he should be much improved from 2006.

Long snapper: RFr. Bobby Shepard (6-1, 235)

The importance of a good long snapper cannot be overlooked. Greg Titiriga played well last year in his only season as a starter. Shepard will be expected to make the seamless transition this year after a redshirt season. He averaged three tackles per game as a senior at Lodi (Calif.).

Kick retuner: A.J. Jefferson (6-1, 190)
2007 season stats: 26 ret, 930 yds, 2 tds, 35.8 ypr

Jefferson was a major surprise last season. Chastin West took over the kick return duties in 2006 for NFL Draft pick Adam Jennings and injured Clifton Smith. West had a solid season returning kicks including a 93-yard return for a touchdown. His preseason injury gave true frosh Devon Wylie a shot at the starting job, which he earned and kept until the fourth game of the season.

Jefferson took over kick returning duties versus Louisiana Tech in game four. Despite not returning kicks in the first three games and missing the final three games of the season, Jefferson totaled nearly 1,000 return yards. His combination of speed and vision makes him a threat to score every time he touches the ball.

Punt retuner: Marlon Moore (6-1, 190)
2007 season stats: 2 ret, 16 yds

Moore is expected to take over for Clifton Smith, the Bulldogs' career record holder in punt returns for touchdowns. Moore already stated his goal is to break Clifton's record of five touchdowns in his final two years of eligibility. He is definitely faster than Smith is, but he does not quite possess the same vision or ability to turn on a dime. Nonetheless, Moore just might remind Bulldog fans of Bernard Berrian when he returns them this season.

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