With the season just 11 days away, my take is that nickel Colton Teglovic (pictured above and just recently put on scholie) and wideout River Cracraft are the frontrunners.
Behind them but still certainly in play, I would say, is a rotation of WR Robert Lewis, WR Gabe Marks and DBs Robert Taylor and Shalom Luani.
This isn't some random group that just got pulled out of a hat. Special teams coach Eric Mele looks for specific qualities in gunners, as well as of all of his special teams positions.
“Our fundamental drills are (such) where you get a good eval on each guy," Mele told CF.C recently. “We try to apply as much pressure as possible to kind of simulate what it’s going to look like in a game – and see who can handle that, and who is going to use their techniques when they’re tired."
Gunners line up on punts like a wide receiver would on the outside of an offensive formation, except they aren’t running around looking to catch passes. They have one specific job on the punt team – be the first man down the field and tackle the guy with football.
It may sound pretty simple, but that one job involves a lot of technique, practice and skill. Out of 100-plus on the roster, only two will be lined up at gunner during a game.
Gunners usually have a few qualities that separate them.
For one, they are typically really fast. Secondly, they have to be good at open field tackling. Third, they have to be able fight off and get by a jammer (another unique special teams positon). Jammers are also fast, very physical, good in coverage and can block you out when the return starts to break down.
WSU's special teams unit as a whole is looking to decidedly improve from last year -- they had some big hiccups, especially in the first half of the season when they gave up four returns for score on punts and kickoffs combined. But from where I sit, having watched every fall camp practice, the entire team is more dialed in this year, including on special teams.
I don't know that I'd go so far as to say WSU will suddenly have some of the best special teams in the conference in 2016 (though that's the goal). But my expectation, and it's a reasonable one, is that each special teams unit is fully capable of performing just as well as any other piece of this football team.
Special teams adds a unique dynamic to the game. What you see on the field for about 1/10th of an entire game is a different world of unique positions, including the gunners. And any of those special teams positions can also be the tipping point between on any given Saturday between winning and losing.
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