Cards looking to improve special teams

Louisville's special team's play so far this season has been anything but special. That's why Steve Kragthorpe decided to make some changes during his team's bye-week. Will those changes mean better results?

That's the big question for a team that has several major deficiencies on special teams.

So where to start? The problems have been numerous and wide spread for this season. There was an 86-yard punt return for touchdown against Kansas State but punt coverage isn't Louisville's biggest special team's concern. The bigger special team's issues include:

**A net punting average of just 29.7 yards. Louisville ranked No. 111 nationally in last week's standings in net punting.

**A kick return average of just 14.7 yards. Louisville ranked an embarrassing No. 117 last week in kick returns. The Cardinals also are averaging only 7.7 yards per punt return (No. 79 nationally), five fewer yards than their opponents.

**Louisville has also struggled finding a replacement for kicker Art Carmody. While the numbers might not indicate it – UofL is 2-of-4 on field goals and 12-of-14 PAT's this season – Kragthorpe seemingly has zero confidence in his field goal kickers. The Cards have already used two different kickers in four games and it appears a third will get a chance against Memphis.

On Monday, Kragthorpe announced that sophomore kicker Tim Dougherty will be suspended for two weeks because of "conduct detrimental to the team." Dougherty had replaced freshman Chris Philpott as UofL's starting place-kicker before the suspension.

That means junior college walk-on Ryan Payne will likely get his chance as UofL's third place-kicker this season against Memphis.

"I thought he really kicked well in the preseason and then had a groin injury where he wasn't able to participate fully," Kragthorpe said. "He got a couple kicks in against Tennessee Tech and he and Chris (Philpott) will battle it out this week. We did a lot of kicking last week and we'll do a lot more this week because I've got to feel more comfortable putting those guys out there. I was more encouraged yesterday in our kicking game than I have been – I thought we kicked the ball well in the placements."

Payne, a bare-foot kicker from California, certainly has a unique style all his own. At 6-1, 185, Payne is known for having a strong leg, though he's had to focus on becoming more accurate with his kicking.

"He's got a good strong leg," said Kragthorpe. "Hopefully the weather is warm because he kicks without a shoe. That would be the only issue. His accuracy has been a lot better the last ten days and I think he has the tools. Now we've just got to get him out there and let him bang it through."

Kragthorpe also wants to see better production in the return game. The Cardinals have been woeful on both kick and punt returns this season.

Kragthorpe's solution: Insert Trent Guy back into the mix on both kickoff and punt returns. If Guy can return to his form from a year ago, improvement in the return game should follow. Guy averaged 22.4 yards per kick return and a team-high 7.2 yards on punt returns last season. Guy had a 100 yard kick return for touchdown against Kentucky and a 54 yard punt return for touchdown against Murray State as a sophomore.

"We've got to do a better job of returning now," Kragthorpe said. "I'll rotate Trent and Dougie (Doug Beaumont) on punt returns and (Trent) and Bilal (Powell) on kick returns. I think Trent's ready for that. He's back to the point where we're getting him back in the fold."

Kragthorpe admitted some reluctance in exposing Guy, who was shot in the back outside a nightclub in July, on returns early this season.

"We've tried to ease Trent back in a little bit," Kragthorpe said. "One of the things I think Trent is getting back is his strength, his level of conditioning and his weight is getting back up a little bit. And that's helped because he did lose a significant amount of weight and strength. He really didn't do anything in the weight-room for about eight weeks. So I think he's getting back closer to normal and I feel a lot better about putting him back there."

Guy certainly has the ability to elevate Louisville's return game.

"He's a dynamic guy with the ball in his hands," Kragthorpe said.


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