CORVALLIS – You don't hear as much about them as you should. For all the chatter about everything offense and defense, the difference between winning and losing when it comes to two closely matched teams is often found… on special teams. Oregon State's kickers and punters in fall camp were often the first to arrive and last to leave. How did they do, and what about the return men?
PRE-SEASON POSITION GRADES Special Teams Kickoff Return: B
Mike Riley was looking at Ryan Murphy, Terron Ward and Victor Bolden as kickoff return men for a good portion of fall camp. On Thursday, he noted that Bolden was a definite go as an option at kick returner – a wise way to use the 5-9, 165 pound true freshman receiver. OSU earns a B grade here because two of the top three considerations for playing time at KR happen to be two of the top performers on the team. Murphy and Ward are safe bets at kick returner, and their athleticism will certainly help them pick up extra yardage. But returning kicks can also be one of the most dangerous jobs in football.
Punt Return: B
Rashaad Reynolds and Brandin Cooks looked to be leading the pack at punt returner, but given the wealth of speed OSU is working with and the ever looming injury bug, I half expect the lineup for PR to see some movement. The last few practice of fall camp indicated that Riley may be leaning more toward Cooks as the starting punt returner, at least for now. Cause to reiterate the argument I made above? Maybe. Should Cooks be considered for one of the more physically harmful assignments in the college football world when he is the best deep threat, and arguably the best hope OSU has for yards through the air?
Rarely did junior Keith Kostol punt while he was on Tommy Prothro Practice Field, so I don't have much to base my grade on here. I did catch him kicking a few when the team practiced in Reser Stadium and from what I saw the junior had good control of his kicks and manages to place the ball in locations that could prove inconvenient from opposing offenses. That's practice though, and the games are a different animal. I scoured my notebook a little, and Kostol punted at or slightly above what I would consider to be the average -- he usually achieved at minimum 45 yards in the air, consistently with or close to 4 seconds of hang time when kicking freely. It's worth noting, I would estimate that I only saw Kostol punt between 20-25 times this fall, and wind was not much of a factor in August.
The longest kick I saw Trevor Romaine belt through the upright this fall was 47 yards long. That's one yard longer than the longest field goal he posted in 2012, so hooray for progress, however marginal. Romaine did not excel as a kickoff guy last year and it was tough to tell if that will improve this season. Oregon State's defense had to deal with many a shortened field last season with Romaine unable to get enough power and height behind his kickoffs, and it allowed extra yardage for opposing return teams here and there.