Depth Chart Notes: Special Teams

CHICAGO - A look at Illinois' initial 2013 depth chart. Special teams has a couple surprising talking points...

Sophomore Taylor Zalewski officially became the man this spring after Nick Immekus removed himself from the kicking conversation after leaving school.

Both Immekus and Zalewski hit four field goals a year ago, with Immeskus the more accurate (missing one to Zalewski's three) while his counterpart flashed a stronger leg (converting a 54-yarder).

It appears the job is Zalewski's for as long as he can stay healthy. His backup is Brennen VanMieghem, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore from Metamora, Ill. He's yet to appear in a game.

Given his more-than-capable leg, Zalewski will handle kickoff duties, a job he covered well a season ago.

Justin DuVernois returns to handle the punting duties after a successful 2012 campaign. He ranked fourth in the Big Ten with a 41.9 punting average on 73 punts, including 19 downed inside the 20, 16 fair catches and a 15 of 50-plus yards.

Senior Brad Janitz and redshirt freshman Ryan Frain are listed as the backups at punter. Wide receiver Ryan Lankford and his rugby kicking style were noticeably left off the depth chart, so it doesn't appear like the senior will be in the mix for punting duties.

Three-year starting long-snapper Zak Pedersen is gone after exhausting eligibility. He completed his career without a single bad snap, leaving big snapping shoes to fill for redshirt freshman Zach Hirth. Michael Martin, also a redshirt freshman, will compete with Hirth for the job.

There is more competition in the return game than among the specialists. It's a battle that cornerback V'Angelo Bentley asserted himself in during the spring. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound sophomore is currently listed as the No. 1 at both kick and punt returner. Senior Miles Osei, known for his smarts and sure hands, is the chief competitor to field punts, while Lankford, most likely the fastest in-line runner on the team, is the second player listed to handle kickoffs. Look for running back Josh Ferguson and a host of true freshmen, like Darius Mosely and Caleb Day, to get reps in the return game as well.


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