The specialists are a critical part of the equation for the Cowboys this fall, as are all of the special teams. With so much turnover on defense and a mostly new offensive line and new offensive line coach it would make sense that games this coming season are going to be closer much of the time and that means margin of success or error is thin, razor thin at times.
Last season that margin on special teams cost the Cowboys. The West Virginia loss is a huge example with a crucial missed field goal and a pair of punts that traveled less than 20 yards.
Oklahoma State only lost three games and special teams factored in all three.
In the Oklahoma loss there was a short punt that the Sooners' Jalen Saunders gathered in and returned (with the help of two blocks in the back) 64 yards for a touchdown. It wasn't the fault of any specialists but a fake field goal executed very well by Oklahoma was responsible for a key second half touchdown.
In the Missouri game in the Cotton Bowl there was a key missed field goal and the punts averaged 37.2 yards. The missed field goal directly impacted the momentum on the game and the punts hurt field position.
Head coach Mike Gundy said this spring that he was very happy with the progress of freshman turning to sophomore kicker Ben Grogan. Grogan was the first freshman to kick field goals and PATs for the Cowboys since Jason Ricks in 2004.
My opinion is that can be tough on a freshman, more mentally than physically. Neither standouts Dan Bailey or Quinn Sharp kicked as freshmen. Grogan finished 11-of-18 on field goals with two kicks blocked.
This spring Grogan was better as he hit several long field goals in scrimmages and also had few misses. The problem with blocks raised up in the April 1 scrimmage with the entire media attending as there was a blocked field goal and a blocked extra point that was returned for a defensive conversion.
Blocks aren't always the fault of the kicker, but both of these seemed to be low kicks with one of them certainly having too much penetration off the line of scrimmage. There really wasn't a problem other than that one scrimmage.
Grogan has had to improve with a new snapper in redshirt freshman Kaleb Smith and the new holder in Lagow. There is some concern with Smith being the only eligible snapper on the team. Zac Faires transferred from Texas Southern, but he must sit out next season.
Smith has been near perfect and as far as I saw had just one bad snap all spring. That by the way is pretty good, but you generally like to have at least two snappers ready to go. Lagow was excellent on the holds as I never saw any problems there during the team work.
Former NEO kickers Keegan Carter and Kevin King provided some competition. However, it was Grogan that did most of the kicking in team work on special team.
Kip Smith continues to work as the kickoff specialist and the punter. There was some work done on kickoffs early in spring and then a little work done on punts toward the end. The reason for not thoroughly working on both is that some of the manpower for the coverage units will be arriving in the summer.
That doesn't mean you can't evaluate Smith on his kicking and punting. From what was available Smith kicked off much the same, but he has good hang time and it doesn't seem to be a problem. It wasn't last season as OSU opponents started at the 24-yard line on average. To give you perspective Oklahoma State started on average at the 29-yard line.
I was more curious to watch Smith punting the football and in that area he showed great improvement, especially with hang time as Smith was getting really good height on all of his punts. The distance was typically between 38 to 44 yards. you'll take that distance with the consistent good hang time.
Competition arrives in the fall as signee and two-time Texas punting champion Zach Sinor will arrive to provide extra motivation when it comes to keeping the job. Then there is the possibility, as happened several times under longtime coordinator Joe DeForest, there will be a different kicker handling each discipline.
We have not been grading in each report, but if I were here I would call it incomplete as there are some very important issues yet to be decided completely. Time to keep working.