Oklahoma Special Teams Preview

In the age of football where specialty positions and teams in general have made more and more of an impact, the Oklahoma Sooners have been a leading example of how putting equal focus on all three facets of the game can really affect the outcome of a teams' season. Tommy Lawlor takes some time to break down this year's Sooner special teams units in his preview.

Coach Bob Stoops has always had good special teams units. The 2007 season should be no different. All of the key players from the 2006 group return. That was a strong unit.

Placekicker Garrett Hartley was a finalist for the Lou Groza award last year. He missed only one field goal and one extra point. He's got a strong leg, both on field goals and kickoffs. Garrett had 31 touchbacks last year.

The punting duties get split between two guys. Senior Michael Cohen is the main punter. He averaged 41 yards per punt last year. That isn't a great average, but he helped to limit returns with good hang time as 13 of his punts resulted in a fair catch. Mike Knall is the pooch punter. He only had 20 punts last year. Eleven of them were downed inside the 20-yard line. Three of them were downed inside the 5-yard line. Mike only had one touchback.

The coverage units work with the kickers to win the field position battle. OU only allowed 4.2 yards per punt return. They allowed only 17.4 yards per kickoff return. Both are outstanding numbers. The kickers get good distance and hang time on their kicks, but it also helps having outstanding coverage. Lendy Holmes was a very good kick cover guy in 2006. Backup running back Jacob Gutierrez is also a good special teams player.

The main kick returners this year will be Reggie Smith, Juaquin Iglesias, and DeMarco Murray. Smith handled punts and some kickoffs last year. He returned one punt for a touchdown. Reggie has outstanding speed and is an elusive runner. He averaged just under eight yards per punt return last year, a disappointing number. Part of the problem is that he looks for the big play too much instead of just running north-south. He's a year older and should be a year wiser. Look for him to cut down on going wide and concentrate more on getting upfield. Iglesias averaged almost 26 yards per kickoff return last year and had a touchdown. He'll be fighting Murray for his spot most likely.

The Sooners blocked two punts last year, one resulting in a safety. Expect more of that this year. They have blocked 20 kicks during Stoops tenure as head coach.

One facet of special teams that should not to be overlooked, longsnapper Derek Shaw and holder Hays McEachern return from last season. They only get noticed when things go wrong, but they are an integral part of a good kicking game.

Special teams may not outright win a game for the Sooners this year, but they will be a strength and make it that much tougher to beat Oklahoma.

Tommy Lawlor has been following the Draft for over 20 years. He's been studying tape and taking notes on players for over a decade now. Tommy has been trained by an NFL scout in the art of scouting and player evaluation. He's learned the game from watching football for thirty years, reading numerous books, and picking the brains of various college and high school coaching staffs. He's broadcast basketball and football games, as well as smaller sports, for WASU-FM, WCHL-AM, and WDAI-FM. He also co-hosted a daily sports talk show for WDAI in Myrtle Beach, SC. While in college, he was an Intern for WBTV in Charlotte, NC and helped cover professional and college sports. He currently does work for many sites, but is the head scout for www.scoutsnotebook.com which is a free website dedicated to scouting players entering the NFL Draft.

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories