Spring Spotlight: Specialists

NC State special teams coach Jerry Petercuskie did a good job with a group that lost a three-year starter at kicker and punter in John Deraney. Now he must replace standout Steven Hauschka and All-ACC returner Darrell Blackman.

  • SPRING SPOTLIGHT: QUARTERBACKS
  • SPRING SPOTLIGHT: TAILBACKS
  • SPRING SPOTLIGHT: TIGHT ENDS
  • SPRING SPOTLIGHT: WIDE RECEIVERS
  • SPRING SPOTLIGHT: OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
  • SPRING SPOTLIGHT: DEFENSIVE ENDS
  • SPRING SPOTLIGHT: DEFENSIVE TACKLES
  • SPRING SPOTLIGHT: LINEBACKERS
  • SPRING SPOTLIGHT: SAFETIES
  • SPRING SPOTLIGHT: CORNERBACKS

    RETURNING CONTRIBUTORS
    #26 Bradley Pierson (Punter/Holder): 5'9 163 - Redshirt Senior
    #56 Corey Tedder (Snapper): 6'1 212 - Junior
    #57 Michael Maurer (Snapper): 5'11 225 - Junior
    #29 Jamelle Eugene (Returner): 5'10 195 - Redshirt Junior
    #80 Donald Bowens (Returner): 6'3 206 - Junior

    NC State special teams coach Jerry Petercuskie did a very good job with a group that was replacing a three-year starter at kicker and punter in John Deraney.

    Steven Hauschka was a blessing in disguise for the Wolfpack, as he came in and solidified the placekicking duties, but the Pack had some early struggles at punter.

    Nathan Franklin began the season as the starter, but after just two games he lost the starting position and left the team.

    Bradley Pierson

    Walk on Bradley Pierson took over and did a solid job the rest of the season, punting 62 times for a 37.2 yards per punt average. With a long of 60 yards, Pierson had just one touchback with 21 punts pinned inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Most importantly, zero of his punts were blocked and for his efforts as a punter and holder, Pierson was awarded a scholarship in the offseason.

    A big reason for the Pack's success kicking the football was the steady play of its longsnappers: Corey Tedder and Michael Maurer. Tedder opened the year as the starter and missed some time with a hand injury, but Maurer did an admirable job filling in for him. The two juniors didn't have any bad snaps in their first year and both will be back for the Wolfpack in 2008.

    One of the biggest pieces Petercuskie has to replace is All-ACC returner Darrell Blackman. A two-year All-ACC selection as a returner, Blackman is taking his talents to the NFL and the Wolfpack will be looking to fill the void at punt and kick returner. According to head coach Tom O'Brien, Donald Bowens and Jamelle Eugene are both receiving looks at punt returner with the kick returning spot likely to be filled in the fall.

    Neither player returned a punt in 2007, but both did handle some kick returns. Bowens returned 20 kicks for 431 yards (21.5 yards per return) with a long of 37 yards. Eugene had just six returns for 108 yards, including a 31-yard return.

    POTENTIAL IMPACT NEWCOMERS
    #36 Josh Czajkowski: 5'9 178 - Redshirt Sophomore
    #38 Jeff Ruiz: 6'2 185 - Redshirt Sophomore

    All signs pointed to Josh Czajkowski opening the season as the Wolfpack's kicker in 2007, but no one knew just how good Hauschka would be. The senior had just one year remaining, and he made the most of it, connecting on 16-of-18 field goals including a game-winner at Miami.

    In last year's Red/White Game, Czajkowski hit a 40-yard field goal and all seven extra point attempts. His only miss on the day came from 54 yards out prior to halftime. Head coach Tom O'Brien likes what he has seen from the redshirt sophomore this spring.

    "At this point last year, Josh Czajkowski was going to be our field goal kicker," said O'Brien. "We knew about Hauschka, but we didn't know if we'd be able to get him in school down here.

    Josh Czajkowski

    "At the end of spring practice, Josh would have been our kicker. He's done a nice job. He's had to kick under some pretty tough situations the last two Saturday's but he's done a nice job kicking the ball. He's done well and Pierson is back punting the ball for us as he was a year ago.

    "Hopefully Josh will pick it up... it's going to be tough to replace a guy like Steve, but I think Josh will do a good job."

    The biggest surprise of last season may have been the redshirting of junior college transfer Jeff Ruiz. Ruiz actually entered fall practice at the top of the organizational chart at punter after enrolling over the summer, but he failed to see any game action.

    A Junior College All-American out of Southwestern Junior College, Ruiz led the Foothill Conference and the state of California with a 43.3-yard punting average in 2006. That mark ranked second in the nation, and he also had 23 punts downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

    Because he only attended Southwestern JC for a year and played as a true freshman, Ruiz had four years to play three at NC State, enabling him to redshirt last season. This spring, he will continue to battle with Pierson for the starting job at punter.

    KEY BATTLE
    Czajkowski and Pierson appear to be in solid shape at their positions, and the biggest question mark might be in the return game with the loss of Blackman.

    Jamelle Eugene

    Eugene and Bowens will be factors, but don't rule out the chance that some incoming players could contribute. Junior college transfer Clem Johnson mentioned specifically that he was recruited as a returner as well as a safety.

    Johnson isn't alone, as three true freshmen, Brandon Barnes, Tobais Palmer, and T.J. Graham will receive strong looks as well. Barnes is physically ready to play and Palmer and Graham are true speedsters who have excelled at returning kicks on the high school level.

    Between Eugene, Bowens, Johnson, Graham, Palmer, and Barnes, NC State should be able to find a couple of players capable of providing a spark in the return game. However, replacing the production of a player like Blackman will be a lot to ask.

    IDEAL SITUATION
    NC State would love to have all the players remain healthy, that's a given. However, if Czajkowski can take over the reins and be reliable at kicker, that will be a big-time plus for the Wolfpack.

    Games are often won or lost in the kicking game, and because NC State won't have much margin for error in 2008, having a strong kicking game will be vital.

    Tobais Palmer

    Czajkowski needs to be able to handle those duties, and Pierson has to continue improving. He doesn't have the strongest leg but does a good job of preventing returns with high kicks. Last year the Wolfpack led the nation in punt return yardage defense, yielding a meager 3.12 yards per return.

    Bowens has proven to be solid as a kick returner, but the question mark will be at punt returner. Solidifying those positions is critical for NC State.

    POST-SPRING PREDICTIONS
    Czajkowski, Tedder, and Pierson hang on to their jobs, and Bowens emerges as the punt returner with Eugene's snaps limited due to his importance at tailback.

    In the fall, Johnson will receive a long look as a returner, but don't be surprised if Palmer or Graham emerges as one of the specialists. Both are shifty and explosive, and Graham in particular has world-class speed. If he hits a seam without being touched, you can go ahead and put six points on the scoreboard. That type of big-play ability is what you're looking for in a kick returner.


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