Fall Camp Preview: Special Teams

This is the fifth in a series of articles reviewing the Panthers units going into fall camp. This article features the special teams. Offense, defense, and special teams will be covered. Returning players and incoming freshmen will be included.

Special teams played a major role in the outcome of three games last season. Everyone remembers the swinging-gate situation against Texas A&M that cost the Panthers a chance to take the game into overtime. David Abdul had an outstanding 4-field goal performance against Boston College, including the game-winning 42-yard field goal in overtime.

Shawn Robinson had a 66-yard punt return for a touchdown against Oregon State in the Insight Bowl. The game was still in doubt before his momentum-changing TD return. Also remember Andy Lee's excellent punting that helped us win the battle of field position in many games last season.

This season the Panthers have a chance to be even better as they return one of the top kicking tandems in the country. At punter, they have one of the very best. Pittsburgh returns All-Big East punter Andy Lee (6-2/205) for his senior season. Lee averaged 43.1 yards per punt last season, with a long punt of 73 yards. Andy was named Big East Special Teams Co-Player of the Year last season. Lee is an All-American and Ray Guy Award candidate this season.

The Panthers also return true sophomore kicker David Abdul (5-10/175). David struggled through the early part of last season, but once he settled down he had a very good season. David made 13 of 20 field goals last season with a long kick of 47 yards. He made 4 of 5 between 30-39 yards and was 4 of 8 between 40-49 yards. Abdul was also 28 of 29 on extra points. He was largely responsible for the victory over Boston College in a game that was evenly matched. Abdul has the talent to play himself into a Lou Groza Award type of season. Senior J.B. Gibboney is an experienced backup and he was 3 of 4 in field goal attempts while sharing the kicking duties early on last year.

Unlike the kicking positions, the Panthers have a lot of questions to answer this fall at return specialist. Cornerback Torrie Cox was one of the best special teams players in Pitt history and will be extremely tough to replace as he moves on to the NFL. Torrie was outstanding as a kickoff returner and coverage man on the punt team. Senior Shawntae Spencer (6-2/175) was the other kickoff return man last season and he looks to take over for Cox. He returned 4 kicks for 95 yards, for a 23.8 yards per return average.

Other candidates to return kickoffs with Spencer include senior William Ferguson (5-10/185) and junior Marcus Furman (5-8/185). Junior Raymond Kirkley (5-10/215) and sophomore Jawan Walker (5-10/190) will also get a look.

Looking to replace Shawn Robinson in the punt return duties includes seniors William Ferguson and Yogi Roth (5-10/195). Junior Marcus Furman will also have a chance to compete.

Incoming kicking specialist Adam Graessle was an outstanding kicker at Dublin Coffman High School in Ohio last season. He will have the benefit of having a chance to learn from two of the best kickers in the country this season.

Finding two new starters at the kickoff and punt return positions will be first on the list for the special teams this fall. Finding a punt return coverage man to replace Cox will also be a priority. If Abdul continues his steady development as a kicking specialist, he has an excellent chance to join punter Andy Lee as an All-Big East performer this season.

Brian Gold
PittInsiders.com


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