J.J. Molson

UCLA Football Spring Review: Special Teams

May 17 -- We wrap up our spring reviews with a look at the special teams...

Positional MVP -- Stefan Flintoft

Some might take this as an indictment that the Special Teams MVP is a walk-on, but it really is an acknowledgment of how good the walk-on punter is. Throughout April Flintoft was incredibly consistent in his punting, almost never faltering with a shank. In fact, in recent years, with how many very good punters have come through UCLA, we could even say that Flintoft is right there as the most consistent -- meaning he lays it out from 40-46 yards and with a good hang-time about as often as anyone we've seen recently. He might not have as much potential to boom it 60 yards, but he just doesn't shank them very often. Flintoft absolutely deserves a scholarship.

We're going to continue with our unpredictability here and say that perhaps the second most valuable Special Teams player for spring was long snapper Johnny Den Bleyker. Den Bleyker, going into his true sophomore season, was very reliable all spring, with very few poor snaps, either inaccurate or mistimed. Timing is everything, especially in kicking, and Den Bleyker's snaps are so consistently quick that it makes it easy on the kickers/punters.

Den Bleyker actually became even more valuable this off-season, since walk-on back-up longsnapper Koby Walsh tore the ACL in his knee and is very likely out for next season. For insurance, UCLA took a 2018 walk-on longsnapper, Alex Michaelsen.

https://twitter.com/alexmichaelsen1/status/859169739737710592

Player Who Most Needs to Step Up -- J.J. Molson

It's not that he's kicking poorly at all, but we'd have to give sophomore kicker J.J. Molson this title at this point. He actually had a pretty good spring, after taking the off-season very seriously. He probably just wasn't as consistent throughout April as you'd expect from such a highly-rated kicker, and he hasn't absolutely distanced himself from walk-on redshirt-sophomore back-up Andrew Strauch. Even though many observers only watched the kickers when they were kicking in team periods during April practice, when the kickers were practicing off to the side Strauch often times kicked the best. At this point, Molson should be really proving himself to be far superior to Strauch and that just hasn't happened yet.

Among the returners, it appeared that freshman Darnay Holmes might be the No. 1 kick-off returner. He got plenty of time during practice, and was the featured returner in the Spring Game. It makes sense; he's absolutely burning his redshirt this fall and he'll probably be the first-string nickel, so the time and responsibility burden of being the No. 1 kick returner is just about the right amount for him to take on. Redshirt freshman Damian Alloway might end up being No. 2.

Darnay Holmes


At punt returner, it looks like UCLA would prefer to have a more experienced, sure-handed guy, and that's senior Darren Andrews or junior Jordan Lasley.

In practice, they never go live with punt or kick-off return, so it's nearly impossible to draw any conclusions about how good any of these guys will be as returners. So, it's really impossible to know that Holmes was actually really good, but we expect he'll be given every chance to prove himself as the kick-off returner in fall since, first, he's inherently an exciting player and it looks exceptionally good to recruits that the true freshman comes in and takes over the kick-off returner spot.

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