BSB's Midterm Gradebook: Special Teams

Ohio State's special teams have broken down numerous times in 2010, but there have been plenty of moments to celebrate too. Would those positives outweigh the negatives in BSB's Midterm Gradebook? Check out what the BSB staff thinks in this final midterm.

Kicking Game
Adam Jardy: You have to be impressed with the way Devin Barclay has seized the top spot on the depth chart. I can't say I was sold on him entering the season, but the devotion he has shown for the position has allowed him to take his game to new heights. Not only is he accurate, but Barclay has shown a stronger leg than we saw last season. I would feel comfortable having him line up for a game-winning kick all the way up to 50 yards. I'm not sure what can be said about Drew Basil that the others will not touch on: strong leg, inconsistent, young and lacks the height necessary to be successful at long-range field goals. The coverage units have shown noticeable improvement since the well-publicized early-season meltdowns, and I think that is due both to improved play from the special teamers as well as better kickoffs.

Matt Hager: Poor Basil. Ohio State's long-distance specialist has attempted two field goals as a college athlete and both have been blocked. One was even returned for a touchdown. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Barclay has been solid handling most of the field goals. He has made 11 of 12 kicks and has shown better range than he had last season. Basil has handled the kickoffs and surprisingly has not had many reach the end zone. The kickoff coverage team was a mess early in the season, but the unit has improved in recent weeks thanks to some fresh blood.

Marcus Hartman: After a terrible start, the kicking and the coverage ended the first half on an upward trajectory. There are signs Basil could deliver on the promise Jim Tressel saw in his right leg when he signed Basil and opted to use him this season as opposed to redshirting him, and the coverage unit seems to have benefited from a shakeup to the lineup. Of note for their contributes on coverage units are Storm Klein, Jonathan Newsome and Nate Ebner.

Jeff Svoboda: As everyone has said, Barclay has been a pleasant surprise. I always knew the former professional soccer player could kick the ball, but I was really hoping he'd seize his senior year and become the consistent weapon he could be. It's nice to see that it happened. Basil has loads of talent and a tremendously bright future, but I have to admit I'm not sure why he was gifted the job as the long kicker so early in his career. Some of the special teams errors have stemmed from his kicks. Obviously, the coverage hasn't been great, but the last three games – in which OSU has given up fewer than 20 yards per return – show much improvement.

BSB Grade: C+

Punting
Jardy:
Throughout the 2009 season, I kept waiting for Ben Buchanan and his booming leg to overtake Jon Thoma for the job as starting punter and it never happened. Now as the team's unquestioned punter, Buchanan has shown occasional pop but not the amazing kicks I have expected to see out of him since his arrival. Granted, he has not had a lot of opportunities and his statistics from the Illinois game are tempered thanks to the wind, but I have simply expected more out of Buchanan. I think there is a higher ceiling here that has not been reached. Much like in the kick coverage unit, the punt team has also shown significant improvement as the season has gone on. I'm sure the coaches are still nervous every time the ball goes in the air, but improvement is being made.

Hager: Ohio State is unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the country, but you know Tressel is not happy that the Buckeyes rank 111th – no, my "1" key did not get stuck there – in net punting. Buchanan almost deserves a pass for those numbers based on the Illinois game alone. He said after the game that he hit some of the best balls he has at Ohio State, but had little to show for it. Much like the kick return team, the punt return team has had its ups and downs. But it should be noted that if you take away the 79-yard return for a score against Miami (Fla.), opponents are averaging 7.1 yards per return instead of 16.1.

Hartman: Like the kickoff team, this unit improved as September turned to October, but the statistics still show a team 111th in the nation in net punting. That is an indication of just how far the punt team had to go after putting itself in an early hole. Buchanan was somewhat shaky early on but has shown signs of rounding into form, and his performance against a stiff wind at Illinois should be commended.

Svoboda: Buchanan hasn't seemed displeased by his kicks, so why should I be? It seems like Buchanan has been here for a while, but he's only a sophomore and like Basil has loads of talent. His average is above 40 yards and he's gotten better and more comfortable as the games have gone on, so I see lots to be excited about. Many of the mistakes – the blocked punt vs. Ohio and the inexplicable return TD by Miami – haven't been Buchanan's fault and have been addressed. This low grade should only get better as time goes on.

BSB's Grade: C-

Returns
Jardy:
Finally, a few returners who legitimately add some spice to the game. Jordan Hall has been fearless as a punt returner, and combining him with Jaamal Berry on the kick return team guarantees the Buckeyes great field position every time they receive the ball. I firmly expect one of the two to run a kickoff back for a touchdown this season. Both are shifty and quick with great burst and acceleration. In particular, I like Hall's ability to get a few yards on every punt return. With such a high-powered offense, the help these two provide in the field position game makes the Buckeyes an even more formidable foe. My only criticism is that they have not brought one back to the house yet, but like I said, I think they are close.

Hager: While opponents have had success in the return game, Ohio State has not been able to return any kickoffs or punts for touchdowns. That being said, the Buckeyes rank 10th nationally and tops in the Big Ten in kickoff returns, and Berry is a big reason why. The redshirt freshman, who has handled the majority of the kickoffs, is averaging 28.2 yards per return. Jordan Hall and Corey "Philly" Brown have handled the punt returns and both averaging around 7 yards per return. Not great, but not terrible.

Hartman: Perhaps overlooked in the hoopla about the Ohio State offense's new high-flying ways is the boost the team has received in the return game. Of course, the standout performances of Hall and Berry on kickoff returns has added fuel to the fire of those wanting to see the young running backs get some chances in the regular offense. Shifty and nimble, both have used their open-field running skills to inject life into an area of the team that had lacked consistent performance since the time Ted Ginn Jr. left early for the NFL. Hall has been a boon to the punt return unit as well, and it is hard to imagine any runners performing as they have without getting quality help from their blockers.

Svoboda: Hall and Berry have made believers out of me. Both are good in space, Hall because of his vision, low center of gravity and tough running style and Berry because of his shake. Even though they haven't brought one back to the house, it sort of feels like the Ted Ginn Jr. era again – don't blink when special teams come on the field because something big could happen.

BSB's Grade: B+


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