With strong opponents on both sides of the ball, it's no surprise that the Gopher schedule is also littered with explosive special teams players.
The first and most dangerous of the group is Michigan State Spartan, Keshawn Martin. Martin, a 5-foot-11 junior is a real threat in both the punt and kick return game. Martin is a guy with great breakaway speed and quick feet and hips to make defenders miss. He used this speed to have a solid all-around season last year compiling stats of 1,451 all-purpose yards, third in the Big Ten, 665 kick return yards on just 23 attempts for an average 28.9 yards per return, and one 93 yard touchdown return. Martin also had five receiving touchdowns, one rushing and the high school quarterback even had two passing touchdowns. The Gophers must always account for Martin when he is on the field because of his speed and versatility.
Another dangerous return man that the Gophers will kick to is Iowa Hawkeye receiver, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. Johnson-Koulianos didn't have many kick returns last year but when he got the opportunity he made the best of it with 354 yards and an average 31.5 yards per return which was second best in the Big Ten. Last season Johnson-Koulianos also had a 99 yard kick return for a touchdown against Ohio State. Gopher fans may remember Johnson-Koulianos from 2008 when he had 181 receiving in a 55-0 rout of the Maroon and Gold. Expect the Gophers to kick away from the ever-dangerous Johnson-Koulianos when they square against the Hawkeyes on November 27.
The one kicker that made the list is Wisconsin kicker, Philip Welch. Welch did not have his best season last year, missing seven of his 24 field goal attempts. This is down from his freshman season were he hit 20 of his 24 attempts. For his career, Welch has hit .771 percent of his field goals which currently ranks him second in Badger history. Welch has the leg to be a big time kicker in the clutch. Last season, in a hard-fought game against Fresno St. he hit a 57 yarder as well as the clinching score in double-overtime. The last two meetings between the Gophers have been decided in the Badgers' favor by three points each time. If the trend continues, Welch may have the weight of Paul Bunyan's axe on his shoulders on October 9 in Madison.
The last special teams stud the Gophers must deal with is Northern Illinois cornerback, Tommy Davis. Davis had a good season in 2009 returning the ball. He had 29 returns for 700 yards and an amazing 86 yard return for a touchdown on the opening kick against Eastern Michigan. The return showed Davis' agility, strength and speed. On the return he ran into three defenders, broke two tackles with a spin and then sped the rest of the way to the end zone. Davis has the potential to become a game changer with the ball in his hands.
To share your thoughts on this article please go to Gopher Insider - Premium Forum.
Fantastic Four: Special Teams
Gopher Illustrated Top Stories
Georgia DE Abi Okonji commits to MinnesotaGeorgia defensive end Abi Okonji decides that Minnesota is the place for him, and he breaks down his decision with GopherIllustrated.
Gopher IllustratedYesterday at 3:55 PM
GI Photo Gallery: March 25thHere's a look at 40 + photos from today's Gopher Football practice, courtesy of Ryan Burns of Gopher Illustrated.
Gopher IllustratedYesterday at 2:30 PM
GI Practice Report: 3/25Everything you need to know from GI publisher Ryan Burns on March 25th's spring football practice for the Golden Gophers.
Gopher IllustratedYesterday at 1:32 PM
GI TV 3/25: Gophers quarterback Conor RhodaGI TV 3/25: Gophers quarterback Conor Rhoda speaks with the media on his decision to come back for his fifth year and Minnesota's quarterback competition.
Gopher IllustratedYesterday at 12:29 PM