A Lot Of New

Special Teams Coordinator Tom Allen has his hands full between now and the 2014 season opener with "new" being the key word for those units. The Rebs will field a new punter, punt return man, kickoff man and placements kicker and holder next season.

With plenty of new faces at key special teams' positions, Ole Miss Special Teams Coordinator Tom Allen came out of spring with a good idea of who the main characters in this football drama will be, but also with an open mind and an eye toward continued evaluation.

"We are starting over at punt return, field goals/extra points, punting, holding and kickoffs," Allen explained. "Spring training was good in that it gave us a good idea of who the main candidates are to fill those spots, but we still have a lot of work to do in fall camp."

Senior Will Denny, Mr. Reliable, returns for his third year at deep snapper. Allen is pleased to have that foundation, at least, returning to the fold.

"Will has experience and he does an excellent job. As long as he stays healthy, we feel really good about our deep snaps on punts and placements," Allen said. "At holder, right now Ryan Buchanan is the leader. It's great to have a QB there because he gives you a lot of versatility and a threat to do other things.

Tom Allen
Chuck Rounsaville

"John Ratliff is also in the mix. He got a lot of spring reps and did a good job. We are also going to look at Anthony Alford because he has great hands, he is a versatile athlete and he's cool under fire. We'll see how it shakes out, but right now, Buchanan came out of spring number one."

The Rebels lost Punter Tyler Campbell to graduation and it appears, based on spring training, it's a two-man race with a caveat.

"Will Gleeson gives us the most versatility there. He's inexperienced but punting is natural to him and he can kick with either foot on the run," Allen assessed. "We think he has great potential. Grant needs more consistency, but he has a good leg when he gets into one. The wild card is signee Gary Wunderlich, who might be able to do all three – punts, kickoffs and placements. He's our ace up the sleeve and we're anxious to see how he adjusts to college ball when he gets here this summer and then in fall camp under pressure."

At field goal/PAT, one would have to concede, based on Allen's comment, that Wunderlich will be in the fall mix, but in spring Andrew Fletcher nudged out Andy Pappanastos, according to Allen.

"We charted everything in spring and Andrew was simply more consistent than Andy," noted Allen. "Pappanastos has a lot of ability, but I don't think he's quite over his quad injury that nagged him all last fall. Neither have tremendously strong legs, but I am comfortable with either from 45 yards in. We think Gary will be a guy who can kick the longer field goals, if he's not kicking them all. Again, we'll see. Fall camp will tell the tale."

Nathan Noble has the inside track on kickoffs, but Allen is also thinking about Pappanastos and Wunderlich in that role as well.

"Nathan is a banger, like Andrew Ritter. He's trying to knock it out of the park every kick," said Allen. "Andy and Gary might have more finesse and might be better when we need to place a kickoff or do a sky kick."

At the all-important, for many reasons all Rebel fans are aware of due to past experience, punt return position, there appears to be three main candidates right now coming out of spring – Carlos Davis, Anthony Alford and Trae Elston.

Trae Elston
File Photo

"Carlos seemed more comfortable back there in spring, even though he's never done it before on this level," Allen said. "He's got speed and he has worked hard at it. He wants the job and he improved a lot during spring training. Alford and Elston are both great athletes who can handle it as well, but they aren't as comfortable – yet – as Carlos.

"We will probably also take a look at two signees – Markell Pack and Dayall Harris, who both returned punts in high school – when fall camp rolls around. We have to get that right this year. It has to be a weapon and not a liability. That's a top goal we have for fall."

At kickoff return, veteran Jaylen Walton has the inside track, but Allen likes the look of speedster Kailo Moore, Davis and Mark Dodson as well.

"Those are all talented, dependable guys who can take it the distance for us," Allen added. "Right now, I'd have to say Walton, due to his experience and comfort level, will be the main guy."

Allen is also pleased there are more special teams' "bodies" on the squad as the Rebel roster gains more and more depth.

"We have more safety/LB types who can run and hit and have a little size to them for coverage teams in particular," he closed.

Overview: The newness of that many key positions is a bit scary, but Allen, after watching 15 days of spring training, seems to have confidence it will all come together. Athletically, the Rebels will be better than in years past at all those posts, but there just is no experience at some spots. As Tom said a couple of times, "we'll see". . . . .

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