Cowboys Postseason Analysis: Special Teams

Ben Grogan (place kicks) and Zach Sinor (punter) will return to handle the kicking duties, but Mike Gundy will be looking for someone to handle the kickoffs.

Oklahoma States fans have voiced over and over that they want a kicker that can put the ball deep into or out of the end zone on more of a regular basis. We were all spoiled by Quinn Sharp as the ultra-strong-legged kicker set national records for putting the ball out of the end zone. Three years in a row he received awards for his total number of touchbacks and his percentage of touchbacks.

This season Ben Grogan kicked off 92 times and there were only 22 that went unreturned and were touchbacks. Only four schools had fewer touchbacks in the Big 12, and that was Iowa State with 10, Kansas State with 15, and Kansas and West Virginia with 20 each.

The rule has changed since Sharp's kickoffs were piercing the back of the end zone and touchbacks now go out to the 25-yard line, but head coach Mike Gundy agrees with Cowboys fans. He wants a kicker that can kick the ball out of the back of the end zone too. 

"There’s got to be someone on this campus that can kick off for us," Gundy said announcing that during their annual spring walk-on tryouts there would be an emphasis on finding a kickoff specialist. "If they can kick the ball in the end zone, they can play for us." 

After serving as the special teams coordinator during the bowl preparation following the departure of Robbie Discher to Toledo for a full-time position on that staff, Gundy has an even better knowledge of what he has among the specialists on the team.

Gundy has said he thinks walk-on and redshirted freshman Matt Ammendola out of Lansdale, Pa., could be the guy. He has a strong leg and he has been told to work on his kickoffs as it could get him on the field more immediately. One way or the other you would expect the kickoffs to get longer. 

The same needs to happen with the punts as Zach Sinor stepped in and was brilliant at pinning opponents inside the 20. He was the best in the Big 12 with 31 of his 75 punts finishing downed inside the opposition's 20-yard line or negative 20. However, his overall average of 40.1 yards a punt was a little less than desired. Late in the season, more and more and maybe because his leg was tired, Sinor's punts were more line drive, which also promote return opportunities. It does help that he is really good at directional punting which the coverage unit benefits from. 

No complaints with Grogan on placements. The quiet Grogan had his issues early in the season with a couple of missed field goals and a series (three) of blocked extra points. However, Grogan was 16-of-20 on field goal attempts which is 80 percent. Breaking it down, he was 4-of-6 from 40 to 49 yards. While he didn't try any longer than 50 yards this season and he is 0-1 in his career from beyond 50, I do think he could hit something shorter than 55 depending on the conditions.

The Cowboys have always had a great reputation and results with returns but that has slipped a little with recent personnel. Two true freshmen handled most of the returns this past season and give Jalen McCleskey credit as he delivered with a 67-yard return for touchdown against Texas Tech, and it came at a clutch moment. Jeff Carr had the majority of kickoff returns and only averaged 21.5 yards. 

Expect some changes and some different schemes this season as overachiever and former OSU graduate assistant Steve Hauser is back to head up that phase. Hauser will research, learn, contact others, and soak up special teams schemes. He is not a status quo kind of guy. He'll also be on the look out for a guy that can kick it out of the end zone.

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