Spring Preview: Special Teams

Whittingham takes control of special teams and looks to shape it in his image this spring.

The Contenders

Kicker


Andy Phillips
Phillips is a likely preseason candidate for all-Pac-12 honors this year after an amazing "come out of nowhere" 2013 season. This guy literally fell off a mountain and into the Ute's hands, turning in one of the best performances by a Utah kicker since the days of Louie Sakoda. The pressure will be on Phillips as a sophomore, but without a doubt, he is the Ute's number one guy in this position. Phillips' achilles heal? Kickoffs. "Automatic Andy" didn't seem to have the leg to put it through into the end zone or beyond. If he can add that skill, and continue his automatic ways as a field goal kicker, he'll be considered one of the best in the conference at season's end.

Punter


Tom Hackett
Hackett kicked his way into being the Pac-12's best punter as a first team all conference selection last season. Hackett proved to be powerful punter with the ability to boom it down the field and leading the Pac-12 with a 43.4 yards per punt average. Hackett also showed he was a dynamic punter dropping an astounding 27 kicks inside the opponents 20 yard line. His versatility in being able to kick both traditionally as well as his patented rugby style approach gives the Utah special teams a real advantage. When the Utah offense stalled last season, Hackett kept the Utes in quite a few games last season and should continue to do so in 2014.

Kickoff Returner


Dres Anderson
He's got speed and moves, but does he have the instincts and the moxie needed to be a good kickoff returner? He looked hesitant when you had his chances, of course, that could be due the fact the blocking ahead of him wasn't all that great. He'll have his chances this spring.

Devontae Booker
Booker brings elite level speed and elusiveness needed at Utah and this spring, he'll have the chance to show it off in the backfield and as a kick returner. In high school, he was a natural at the position with multiple kickoff returns for touchdowns and in 2011 he averaged nearly 35 yards per return. Look for Utah to tap into his skills at the position this spring.

Dominique Hatfield
Utah loves the potential they see in Hatfield and he will get lots of looks as a wide out and kickoff returner. His size and speed seem to be a good fit for the position, but he's an unproven commodity as a returner.

Punter Returners


Geoffrey Norwood
Norwood handled the majority of Utah's punt returns last season returning 27 for an average of just 8.6 yards. Norwood, a former walk-on, is a gutsy returner and made several big plays for the Utes last year, but was the game changer they need. He's got some talent and is certainly a hard worker, but he many not have the break away speed needed to be a huge threat to opposing team. He's be at the top of the Utes list this spring, but they will certainly be shopping around.

Bubba Poole
With a glut of talented running backs on the roster, Poole may find himself contributing more on special teams this season. If he's the number one running back he'll likely fall of the punt returning depth chart, but if he's a second or third option at running back, Poole could find himself as a leading candidate to return punts. He's a decent returner and fearless (a must at the position), but his hands are a bit suspect and decision making is another question mark.

Troy McCormick
McCormick made a splash last season's fall camp and after redshirting, he's looking to get on the field and start contributing where he can. He'll not only get looks as a running back, but special teams could be place for him to get chances to prove himself.

Kaelin Clay
Kaelin won't be on campus for spring camp, when and if he makes it on campus, Clay will certainly be a leading candidate for Utah as a punter and kickoff returner.

Projected Depth Chart Going in to Spring

Punter
Tom Hackett

Kicker
Andy Phillips

Punter Returner Geoff Norwood
Troy McCormick

Kickoff Returner
Dominique Hatfield
Devontae Booker

What needs to happen
Kyle Whittingham now assumes the coaching responsibilities for the special teams replacing Jay Hill who took the Weber St. head coaching job. Whittingham's attention to detail will be a good change for this special teams squad which has preformed well in spots over the past two seasons. Even though the punter and kicker positions are solid, the special teams has major concerns that need to get fixed starting at spring camp. First, the Ute's kickoff coverage last season was atrocious and at times they were bailed out by penalties that hid their ineptness. Kickoffs have to be deeper and coverage has to be lane assignment sound. For as great as kickoff returns were in 2012 with Reggie Dunn, last season's results were the complete opposite as the Utes struggled to find a replacement for their former All-American. The Utes need to have two to three legitimate options with Kaelin Clay likely the Ute's top choice once fall camp opens up. With a struggling offense, the Utes have to have the advantage on special teams and look for Whitt to get is turned around starting at spring camp.

Projected Depth Chart Going in to Spring

Punter
Tom Hackett

Kicker
Andy Phillips

Punter Returner
Kaelin Clay
Troy McCormick

Kickoff Returner
Kaelin Clay
Devontae Booker

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