Looking ahead: Special teams

In ScarletReport.com's last breakdown of Rutgers' units heading into 2010, we look at the special teams play. Someone will have to make up for the loss of cornerback Devin McCourty, who did so many things, but many of the skills players will be back for the 2010 season. However, there are several areas in which the Scarlet Knights would like to see improvement.

For as much as Rutgers' defense will miss cornerback Devin McCourty in 2010, the special teams will face even a bigger void.

McCourty was an all-Big East first-team selection as a cornerback, and he was equally good, if not better, as a special teams player.

In losing him to graduation, Rutgers lost its best kickoff returner, its best punt blocker and its best punt coverage player.

In fact, even if McCourty was not such a skilled defender, he likely would have found an NFL job as a special teams extraordinaire given his ability to do so many things well in that phase of the game. McCourty blocked seven kids in his career and returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown last season.

Finding personnel to perform well on special teams is an annual rite, and Rutgers settled in well last season after a rocky start under special teams coach Robb Smith.

But there is plenty of room for improvement, and the Scarlet Knights have much of their skill talent back to be able to excel in this area.

Joe Lefeged takes over as the Scarlet Knights' top option on kick return. He was one of three Scarlet Knights (McCourty and Damaso Munoz) to return a kick for a touchdown this season, but the Scarlet Knights need to settle on another returner, be it one of the younger players or Mohamed Sanu or Brandon Jones.

Sanu was coach Greg Schiano's choice to return punts, which was an ambitious move considering it was Sanu's first year in the program. Sanu had difficulties handling a few punts, but proved to be sure-handed most of the time.

However, his penchant for fair-catching punts sometimes cost the Scarlet Knights the opportunity to advance the ball and give the offense better field position.

Rutgers ranked 102nd in punt return average (5.86 yards per return), and Sanu averaged 3.9 yards per return, although the low number is partially attributable to constantly trying to block punts, which means returns are not set up.

A telltale sign, though, of needed explosiveness in this area is Rutgers' longest punt return: 13 yards.

Punter Teddy Dellaganna, who will be a senior, averaged 42.2 yards per punt. Rutgers' net average was 36.9 yards, which ranked 38th nationally. He also downed 26 of his 68 punts inside the 20-yard line.

The punting was fine, but Dellanganna needs to get more depth on his kickoffs to further help the coverage team, which had a few breakdowns in giving up big returns.

Junior-to-be San San Te's placekicking also needs to improve. A lower back injury plagued him as a freshman, but he reported no health issues in 2009 and still ranked near the bottom of the nation in field goal percentage.

Te was 18 of 28 (.643), which was 92 nationally, and missed three field goals from 32 yards or closer. He made all 39 of his extra point tries.

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