Conference Preview: Special Teams

Special teams have been an issue for the Longhorns in recent years, and the 2011 team is no exception.

How else do you explain a team with so many play-making athletes — including two of the Big 12's fastest players with the ball under their arms in Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Monroe — that fails to make impact plays in the return game?

With the athletes in place, the Longhorns should be among the best in the league, if not the country, on special teams. But Texas has averaged just 20.3 yards per kickoff return, a number boosted significantly by a single 40-yard return by Goodwin, who is no longer on the unit (because of wide receiver depth concerns). Monroe is averaging less than 15 yards per return.

It's a similar story on punt return, where Jaxon Shipley has three returns for 20 yards and a muffed punt. Meanwhile, the Longhorns have been routinely out-punted and generally have faced worse field position than their opponents thanks to the special teams game. To make matters worse, Nolan Brewster, one of the team's top special teams players, is now no longer available.

Justin Tucker has been among the league's steadiest kickers, and he's knocked through all three of his attempts this year, all under 40 yards.

Texas has the players, especially among its talented freshmen and sophomore classes, to make up strong return and coverage teams. And as the season goes on, one would expect those teams to improve. But for now, special teams stand as the one unit where the Longhorns have been routinely out-played.

Quick Hit Analysis: The Longhorns have too many great athletes to struggle this much in special teams, where they've generally failed to generate momentum-causing plays. With as strong a defense as the Longhorns have, it's a must that they find a way to buckle things up on the special teams end to create field position.

Grade: C-

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