Gone Camping: FG and Coverage Units

A detailed look at Notre Dame's returning special teams stalwarts and other competitors likely to join the group entering August camp.

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Field Goal Triumvirate/Kicking Game

In 2010, senior walk-on snapper Bill Flavin, junior walk-on holder Ryan Kavanagh, and senior walk-on kicker David Ruffer produced a perfect effort through nine games, with Ruffer connecting on 13 of 13 field goal attempts. But Flavin broke his wrist and was lost for the season in the October 31 loss to Tulsa, and junior center Braxston Cave replaced him in the short-snapper role. Ruffer then drilled five straight field goals with Cave as his snapper before missing his final attempt vs. Miami in the Sun Bowl (due largely to an injury suffered on his previous successful kick).

2011 Kicking Game Competitors:

  • David Ruffer: Has connected on 23 of 24 career field goal attempts but missed three PAT last fall. Ruffer earned a scholarship from head coach Brian Kelly and returns for a 5th-season of eligibility this fall. He added two solo tackles in kick coverage, along with 10 touchbacks (discussed in Part II).
  • Ryan Kavanagh: Perfect 2010 holding effort highlighted by a scoop-and-spot that ended with Ruffer's career-best 50-yard boot vs. Pittsburgh last October. Also serves as a backup long-snapper for the Irish punt team.
  • Braxston Cave: Senior center will likely be challenged in August camp as a similarly talented snapper would have far more time to work with Ruffer and Kavanagh than would the team's starting center.
  • Nick Tausch: The junior backup kicker hit 14 of 17 as a true freshman in 2009, including a then-record 14 straight. Tausch connected on his only field goal attempt last season, a 34-yard boot vs. Miami, the final points in a 33-17 Irish victory.
  • Ben Turk: Junior punter averaged 38.3 yards per boot with a long of 56 yards and had just seven punts returned against him last fall. Over 68 total punts, Turk did not suffer a block, planted 26 inside the opponents' 20-yard line (*vs. three touchbacks), forced 22 fair catches, and enjoyed six punts in excess of 50 yards.

    *Special Teams Coordinator Mike Elston noted in pre-season 2010 that the team's goal was an "8-1 ratio" regarding kicks downed inside the 20-yard line vs. touchbacks.

  • Kyle Brindza: Freshman will challenge for the lead role on kick-offs and could push Turk for his punting duties with a standout camp – or intermittent struggles from the veteran – something that has plagued Turk over his first two seasons.

Coverage Units

The Irish finished 17th among 120 FBS kick coverage units, and 20th among the group in punt coverage last fall. The punt group allowed one touchdown, a back-breaking 59-yard dance by Tulsa standout Damaris Johnson. Among the other 13 returned punts from Irish foes, special teams coordinator Mike Elston's group yielded an aggregate 18 yards, and Notre Dame's 12 other opponents (not including Tulsa) totaled just five punt return yards.

The kick coverage group did not yield a return of more than 38 yards over the 13-game slate while producing 10 touchbacks, all from returning Lou Groza finalist David Ruffer. Ruffer also booted two kicks out of bounds – a penalized play that places the pigskin at the opponent's 40-yard line.

Coverage Units Returning Starters

Graduated senior linebacker Brian Smith represents the only key departure from the kick coverage group, while graduated tight end Bobby Burger is the lone loss from the punt coverage unit.

  • Steve Filer: Led the team in special teams tackles for the second straight season, recording 9 of his 11 stops in kick coverage. Was the only Irish player to record more than one tackle covering punts last year.
  • Dan Fox: Quietly finished fourth on the squad in special teams stops (8) including two assisted tackles on kick-offs in the Sun Bowl.
  • Daniel Smith: Joined the coverage and return units at mid-season (vs. Western Michigan) and later recovered a key fumble vs. Utah, setting up an Irish touchdown early in the third quarter.
  • Patrick Coughlin: Walk-on running back finished fifth on the squad in total ST tackles, assisting Fox on both of his Sun Bowl stops and totaling each of his eight tackles vs. kick returns.
  • Bennett Jackson: Won the squad's Special Teams Player of the Year award as a true freshman, finishing second on the team in ST tackles (10), eight of which occurred in kick coverage. Jackson earned Irisheyes.com's (and everyone else's) game ball for his 3-solo/1-assist effort in his collegiate debut vs. Purdue, a contest in which he recorded three consecutive unassisted tackles on kick-offs.
  • Robert Blanton: Blocked a punt and scored a touchdown vs. Utah and totaled nine special teams tackles (including two covering kicks and one covering a punt) in the Sun Bowl.
  • Austin Collinsworth: Finished with six tackles and a forced fumble as a member of the kick coverage unit.
  • Jamoris Slaughter: Relegated to intermittent status as a kick coverage member thanks to an injury-plagued campaign. Slaughter is a lock for duty as a senior.
  • Prince Shembo: Posted three special teams tackles last fall.
  • Lo Wood: 11-game coverage units starter did not play vs. USC or Miami to conclude the season. Wood was part of both the kick-off coverage and punt return teams, committing a costly penalty on a John Goodman punt return at Michigan State.
  • Zeke Motta: Key member of the punt coverage group and added three stops in kick coverage as well.
  • Chris Salvi: Walk-on safety finished with two special teams stops.
  • Mike Golic and Lane Clelland: The pair of backup offensive linemen teamed with graduated tight end Bobby Burger as a trio of backline protectors for punter Ben Turk in Notre Dame's modern punt formation.
  • Jordan Cowart: Junior long-snapper recorded a tackle in punt coverage last season and returns for the lead role for the third straight season. None of his 94 career snaps have resulted in a blocked punt.

Filer, Fox, Jackson, Shembo, and Collinsworth each appeared in all 13 games last season, due largely to their work on the coverage units. Golic appeared in 12 contests thanks to ST roles as well.

Additional Coverage Unit Competitors Look for at least three, likely four, from the group below to win starting roles this season.

  • Danny Spond: Size, speed and agility make him a natural candidate. Spond was part of the coverage units before suffering a viral infection last season.
  • Dan McCarthy: Irisheyes.com's breakthrough senior for 2011.
  • Kendall Moore: Look for the squad's Scout Team Defensive Player of the year to make his collegiate field debut in coverage vs. South Florida.
  • Eilar Hardy: Our top candidate among freshmen competitors.
  • Matthias Farley: Could work his way into a perimeter role, both covering punts and battling opposing gunners as a member of the punt return team…if he's not back to field the punts as well.
  • Ben Councell: Like Spond, a natural candidate with athleticism in space.
  • Ishaq Williams: Like Shembo last fall: just too explosive to keep on the sidelines as a true frosh.

Click here for Notre Dame's kick and punt return projections.


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