A look at special teams

With fall camp behind us and just one week until the season opener, there remains just one section of LSU's 2008 squad for TigerSportsDigest.com to preview. It is also the area of the team we know the least about. Today we're taking a look at special teams.

A Look Back


2007 was about as good a year as one could ask for from the kicking game, minus kickoffs, of course. Colt David led the team in scoring with a whopping 147 points, connecting on 26-33 field goals and a perfect 63-63 on extra points. In addition, the junior kicker found himself plastered all over Sports Center thanks to his touchdown run on a genius fake field goal against the mastermind himself, Steve Spurrier.


On the other end of the spectrum, the Tigers had an invaluable weapon in senior punter Patrick Fisher. As one of the team’s five captains, Fisher averaged a solid 44.5 yards per punt, good enough for 10th best in the nation.


Josh Jasper and Andrew Crutchfield split duty with Sean Gaudet on kickoffs. Crutchfield averaged a respectable 63 yards on 33 attempts, while Jasper averaged slightly less with 59 on 39 kicks. It remains to be seen if one or the other will take the job full time.


As excellent as the kickers were, however, the return games left a little to be desired.


Trindon Holliday served as a solid kick returner, averaging 26.2 yards per return, including his scintillating touchdown return to establish a lead against Ole Miss.

Aside from the speedy sophomore, things weren’t so good.


Of the nine other players who returned kicks, only Chad Jones averaged more than 20 yards per return, with an average of 22.5. Keiland Williams was Hollidays’ primary return partner, but he only averaged 19.9 yards per return with no touchdowns. All in all, the team’s average was 19.7, which as we all know isn’t even as good as a touchback. This is obviously something Les Miles will want to see some improvement on.


If kick returns were mediocre, punt returns were abysmal this past season.

Chad Jones earned the respect of fans with his refusal to call for fair catches in the face of big tackles, but his brazenness only earned him an average of 6.6 yard per return. Jared Mitchell got a try a few times, but eked out a mere 4.8 yards per attempt. Holliday, who would have to be considered the team’s best return man, only got a go one time all season and that finished in no gain.



Spring Ball


Kicking is never something the media gets a good look at, and spring practice sessions produced no insight as to who would be replacing Patrick Fisher. It wasn’t until the spring game arrived that any insight was shed on any of the special teams’ openings.


Andrew Crutchfield and Colt David squared off against each other in the spring game, with Crutchfield nailing a 42-yarder and David knocking one home from 23. David missed on attempts of 34, 51, and 48, but is in no danger of losing his job with 278 points tallied in his career.


Crutchfield and Jasper also continued their roles as kickoff specialists, while Jasper, Brady Dalfrey, and Drew Alleman tried out for the vacant punting position. Dalfrey won an award for most improved player, but of the several punts from the spring game none were exceptionally pretty.



Fall Camp


As was the case in the spring, not much has been seen of special teams this fall. Colt David has been dealing with a minor injury since August started, but Les Miles has been confident of his health and readiness in the long-term.


Meanwhile, only once did we see anything out of the punters this fall. On one particular morning we caught a glimpse of Jasper and Dalfrey working with kicking machines. Both guys have the leg for the job but not the consistency as far as we have seen.


It’s even harder to report on the return game, as we have yet to see anything from this area of the team. Miles has reported on several occasions that Chad Jones and Patrick Peterson are getting serious looks as kick and punt returners, while Trindon Holliday is supposedly trying out as a punt returner and a kick returner. Just like the quarterback, these are matters that likely won’t be resolved until opening day.



My Take


Offensively, LSU’s kicking game isn’t going to miss a beat from last year. Defensively, it could be a frustrating season for anyone expecting consistency from the punters.


In his first season as LSU’s lone kicker, Colt David doubled his point total and developed into one of the SEC’s most reliable kickers. After scoring 147 points and connecting on 78% of his field goals, David was named as the 2008 first team All-SEC placekicker. In three years of kicking, the senior from Texas has hit 74.5% of his field goals and a staggering 158 of 160 extra points. I think it’s safe to say his output will be just fine.


On the other hand, the Tigers are still looking for someone to step up and replace Fisher. Of the four guys getting looks, no one has showed they can consistently boot the ball downfield while keeping it inbounds. With a defense that’s breaking in six new starters, now is not a good time to deal with punters who may not be able to put the ball in good field position. For at least the first half of the season, the defense could use a little extra help from the punting game. Unfortunately, the punting game is probably going to be even more lost than the new defenders.


As far as the return game, there are too many athletes on this team to not be able to find someone who can get the ball more than 20 yards downfield. Trindon Holliday is one of the most dangerous returners in the country and I’m confident he’ll find his way into the endzone again this season. All LSU needs is one extra player who can make one defender miss. Making one guy miss is the difference between a 19-yard return and a 28-yard return, which is really all the team needs from the guy not named Trindon.


In my humble opinion, Holliday also needs to be lining up on punt returns. I said earlier that he needs to up his number of touches per game, and what better way to do that than give him four or five chances a game to break a touchdown? Obviously, he has to catch the ball first which is something he has reportedly worked extensively on once his track season ended. Patrick Peterson may be just as explosive, but it’s hard to comment on a guy that nobody has seen return a kick.

One thing is for sure, though, and that is we’ll all find out in about nine days.

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