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2018 (early) Position Preview – Special Teams

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Pictured: Former BYU Return Specialist, Adam Hine celebrates in the endzone against Virginia, via deseretnews.com

More often than not, a team’s Special Teams (ST) unit is the most over-looked part of the team. Because of this, it is common to find developmental players and non-starters contributing on ST because coaches don’t want to risk their star players getting hurt. However, when a ST unit doesn’t do its job, or is simply poor, then everyone notices. Contrastly, it’s a special treat when a team fields a special Special Teams unit.

 14605666via memegenerator.net

More like 4, but still it feels as if it has been forever since a BYU player returned a kick, whether a kickoff or a punt, for a touchdown. The last player to do it was Adam Hine in 2014 against Virginia. Hine was an exciting player who could crack off a big one at any given time. Before him, Cody Hoffman did it in 2011, as did JD Falslev. Before that you have to go all the way back to 2006 for McKay Jacobson’s punt return TD against Wyoming.

The title for “most dynamic kick returner of all time” for BYU is probably a contest between two names: Golden Richards (who holds the BYU record for most return yards in a game, most yards on punt returns in a game and season, and most touchdowns on punt returns in a game, season, and career) and James Dye (who holds the BYU record for the best average kickoff return in a game, best average punt return in a game, season, and career, and tied with Golden Richards for most touchdowns on punt returns in a career.)

The kicking game is less sexy than kick returning, but still important. BYU’s all-time leader in career scoring (not including QBs throwing TDs) is Kicker Mitch Payne, who edges out Luke Staley by 44 points. Other prominent Kickers other than Payne would be Justin Sorensen, who has a BYU record 70 consecutive PATs made and the most field goals made in a single season.

For punting, with tear-stained smart-phones, BYU fans say goodbye to easily the most entertaining Punter BYU has ever had, Jonny Linehan, who joins a growing brotherhood of entertaining Punters. But even someone as talented as Johnny Rugby, you would be hard-pressed to find a better Punter in BYU history than Lee Johnson, who holds the BYU records for best Punting Average in a game, in a season, and in a career.

James_Dye.jpgPictured: Former BYU Return Specialist, James Dye, via loyalcougars.com

BYU not only did not have a player return a kick for a TD last year, they also saw a drop in productivity in the kick return game in general. Though he only began taking kicks in the latter part of the year, Michael Shelton led the team in kick return yard averages with 19.9/kick return. This was a drop from last year, where Matt Hadley led the team with 27.9, followed by Aleva Hifo with 21. In 2015 Riley Burt was the main kick return specialist and averaged 24.5. Trey Dye, son of the legendary James Dye, averaged a whopping 32.5 yards on 4 returns, and why we’re not using him more often in the return game is a mystery. While some might wonder why we’re using Shelton as opposed to others, Shelton did lead the team in punt returns in 2015 while averaging 11 yards (better than Garrett Juergens in 2016 with his 8.6 avg.) but that average dropped to 6.7 in 2017. In other words, other than Trey Dye, Shelton does seem to be the best option to return kicks statistically.

In the kicking game, the leading Kicker in 2017 put up 95.7% extra point kicking (decent) and 68.4% field goal kicking (terrible) for 61 points (not good.) Both of these were a drop from 2015 & 2016, where the leading kicker put up 94.5% on extra points and 82.4% on field goals for 94 points and 97.5% on extra points and 81% on field goals for 90 points respectively.

For punting, Linehan put up similar numbers to what he has in the past, with an average of 42.9 punting yards. In 2015 and 2016 he had a 42.7 average and a 42.5 average, respectively. These numbers are decent and he will be missed for more than just his amusing tweets and personality.

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Pictured: Former BYU Punter and Rugby player, Jonny Linehan, via vanquishthefoe.com

Returning as Special Teams coach is Assistant Head Coach Ed Lamb who will enter his 3rd year as ST coach. Initially, in 2016, general confidence in special teams play was elevated as players saw a more disciplined and sound team on kickoff and punt coverage. However, after 2017 it is evident that there are areas of the ST that need to be addressed due to poor performance, as well as plenty of question marks in the future. Other than the annual competition at kickoff and punt returner – which a returning starter might not retain due to an enlarged role on offense or defense – BYU should not feel comfortable with their kicking game and the punting game is completely up in the air.

Additionally, BYU returns both of their deep snappers, who have performed well.

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Picutred: Current BYU Kicker, Rhett Almond, via heraldextra.com

Returning starters:

Rhett Almond (SR.) Almond entered 2017 in his second year as the starting Kicker. His efficiency dropped in 2017 when compared to 2016, where his extra point average dropped by 1.85 percentage points and his field goal average dropped by 12.53 percentage points. He also produced 29 less points in the kicking game. Not everything was bad for Almond in 2017, as he did have a career long field goal of 46 yards against Fresno State, as well as a perfect kicking game in 6 games, including against Fresno State.

Michael Shelton (SR.) Shelton became the primary kick returner, for both kickoffs and punts, by the end of the year in 2017. His best game last year as a kickoff returner was against UNLV, where he averaged a career high of 27 yards in returns with 81 yards gained total. In punt returns, his best game came against UMass, where Shelton averaged a season high 14.3 return yards for a season high 86 yards. His career highs as a punt returner came in 2015 against Wagner, where he averaged 18.8 punt return yards for 94 yards. 2017 was his first year returning kickoffs. A 3-star recruit out of high school, Shelton was also recruited by Auburn.

Andrew Mikkelsen (SR.) A former Oregon State Beaver, Mikkelsen was the primarily kickoff (KO) specialist in 2017, a role he had in 2014 before his mission and was the backup KO in 2016. In 2017 Mikkelsen had a career high 62.58 yard season average and a career high 32% season touchback rate. His best game was probably against UNLV, where 60% of his kickoffs were touchbacks and he averaged 64.4 yards on 5 kickoffs.

Matt Foley (SR.) A starter at Deep Snapper since being a Freshman, Foley played in all 13 games in 2015 & 2016, but was injured in 2017 and only played in 4 games. Out of high school, Foley was also recruited by New Mexcio, San Diego State, and Washington.

Mitch Harris (SR.) The back-up Deep Snapper in 2016, Harris took over the starting role in 2017 after Foley went down with injury and played in 11 games.

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Picutred: Current BYU Deep Snapper Matt Foley, via deseretnews.com

New Faces:

Skyler Southam (RM FR) A 3-star prospect, Southam was the third ranked kicker in the country in 2016. He did not receive any other offers from schools as he committed early to the Cougars.

Danny Jones (new recruit) A former rugby player like former Cougar Jonny Linehan, the Australian native is a bigger-than-average left-footed punter.

 

For more information about the newest recruits, I encourage you to visit:

https://www.deseretnews.com/article/765696965/BYU-football-2018-recruiting-class-live-updates-video.html

 

Key Loses:

Jonny Linehan

Jonah Trinnaman

 

Notes:

  • Matt Foley might be eligible to apply for a medical redshirt as he only played in 4 games in 2017. In which case, he would be considered a Redshirt JR.
  • Skyler Southam may be a redshirt candidate, as he recently returned from a mission.
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Pictured: Current BYU RB Trey Dye outrunning the Cincinnati defense, via heraldextra.com

Projected depth chart:
(compare to https://www.loyalcougars.com/football-roster/depth-chart/)

KR/PR Candidates: Michael Shelton, Riley Burt, Trey Dye, Inoke Lotulelei, Isaiah Armstrong, Trevion Greene, Tariq Buchanan

K 1 – Rhett Almond
K 2 – Andrew Mikkelsen

P 1 – Danny Jones
P 2 – Rhett Almond

KO 1 – Andrew Mikkelsen
KO 2 – Skyler Southam

DS – Matt Foley OR Mitch Harris

 

Translation/Final thoughts: Predicting the kickoff and punt return specialists before Spring Camp is folly (not Foley.) The general idea seems to be that the best athlete that is preferably not in a starting role that can also reliably field kicks will get the gig! If Troy Warner moves from Ccornerback to Safety, I imagine Michael Shelton’s role on the defense would become larger and his role in ST might decrease as a result, otherwise he is a strong candidate to return kicks. I would hope to see Trey Dye and Riley Burt be more involved in the running game, but if not then both are tremendous athletes who have proven themselves in the kick return game in times past. Other athletes that I would like to see considered include the rest of the list – those who are buried on the depth chart and could use a chance to shine.

Despite his regression in 2017, I expect Almond to retain the starting Kicker role for his Senior year, while Southam is groomed as the heir apparent and Mikkelsen relieves Almond when necessary as he has done in the past. However, if Almond does not improve in 2018 do not be surprised to see the coaches give Southam a shot sooner than later.

A lot will be expected of true Freshman Danny Jones as the punter. If he struggles early, the punting game may be in a bit of trouble. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the entire kicking depth chart could be shuffled after only a few games into the season, where Rhett Almond might take over punting duties and either Mikkelsen or Southam taking over as the primary Kicker.

Matt Foley does seem to be the preferred option at Deep Snapper, with his experience at the position. However, Mitch Harris filled in admirably and if Foley ends up using 2017 as a redshirt year (due to medical hardship, etc.) the coaching staff may want to stay with the healthier option and save Foley for one more year in 2019. Otherwise, both options are Seniors and I would imagine Foley would be the primary starter with Harris as the backup, as was previously the case.

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Pictured: Current BYU RB Riley Burt outrunning the Cincinnati defense, via sltrib.com

Offensive Position Previews:

Defensive Position Previews:

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