Spring Practices … First Look: Special Teams

Program Note … Spring practices will begin February 23rd (Spring Game: March 17th). Leading up to spring ball, previews will be posted for each unit of the 2018 Colorado roster.

Previously posted: QuarterbacksWide ReceiversTight Ends/FullbacksRunning Backs … Offensive LineDefensive LineLinebackersDefensive Backs


The roster: 

Special Teams

Players lost (with 2017 season stats) … PK Chris Graham (one kickoff – 46 yards) … Holder T.J. Patterson


SPECIALISTS (3 scholarship):

Seniors: Alex Kinney (P)
Juniors: J.T. Bale (SN)
Sophomores: James Stefanou (PK)
Redshirt freshmen: None
True freshmen: None

The stats (2017):

— James Stefanou … Played in 11 games … 17-of-22 field goals (77.3%), long of 53 yards

Alex Kinney … Played in 12 games … 56 punts, 43.77 yard gross average … 57 return yards, 41.7 yard net average … two punts blocked … 28 punts inside opponents 20-yard line

Davis Price … Played in 12 games … 64 kickoffs – 40 touchbacks, 23 returned … Average starting yardline: opponent 24-yard line

Ronnie Blackmon … 12 punt returns for 96 yards, long of 40 yards … 15 kickoff returns for 315 yards, long of 32 yards

K.D. Nixon … 11 kickoff returns for 261 yards, long of 34 yards


At first glance, there is not much excitement when it comes to the Colorado special teams.

Alex Kinney returns for his senior year, becoming the third Buff punter in the past decade (joining Matt DiLallo and Darragh O’Neill) to be a four-year starter at Colorado. In each of his first three seasons, Kinney has improved his average, going from 40.1 yards per punt as a freshman, to 41.3 yards per kick as a junior, to 43.7 yards this past season.

Australian kicker James Stefanou returns for his sophomore season. A question mark to open the 2017, the unknown 30-year old finished the 2017 season making 17 of his 22 field goal attempts. For his efforts, Stefanou was named as a semi-finalist for the Lou Groza award.

In the return game, the Buffs’ leading punt returner, Ronnie Blackmon, and kickoff returner, K.D. Nixon, are back.

So, nothing to see in Boulder this spring?

Yes and no.

For starters, the primary backup to both Kinney and Stefanou last season was Chris Graham. The senior did not did the field much in 2017, but he did bring a certain level of reassurance that there was an experienced backup should either of the starters be hurt or struggle.

This spring, there are no scholarship kickers behind either starter, with juniors Davis Price and Nick Porter the only other specialists on the roster. Price handled kickoff duties last season, and will likely be the primary backup for both positions this fall.

There is one position which needs to be replaced this season.

T.J. Patterson, walk-on quarterback, was the holder on field goal attempts and extra points in 2017. Patterson’s backup was punter Alex Kinney, who may take over the position in 2018.

While the leading punt returner and leading kickoff returner from 2017 are back, it doesn’t mean that those jobs aren’t up for grabs this spring.

As a team, Colorado was 47th in the nation in kickoff returns, 23rd in punt returns. Not bad numbers, but there is certainly room for improvement. With a log jam of talented players at wide receiver, and a quartet of sophomore cornerbacks looking for playing time, auditions for the return positions may take on added importance for players looking to solidify their position on the roster.

A future potential star for the Buffs won’t be on campus until this summer.

Vanderbilt punter Sam Loy has indicated his intention to transfer to Colorado after completing his sophomore year in Nashville. A two-starter for the Commodores, Loy was being utilized as a rugby-style punter, but is looking to be a more straight on punter. Loy will have to sit out the 2018 season as a transfer, but will then have two years to play two in Boulder as the replacement for Alex Kinney.

Overall, Colorado special teams play improved in 2017. The Buffs found an Aussie kicker, Alex Kinney was steady at punter (two blocked kicks notwithstanding), and the return game was adequate.

Colorado still doesn’t have a designated special teams coach (inside linebackers coach Ross Els is as close as the Buffs come), but that didn’t hurt the Buffs last fall.

This spring will be for fine tuning for the kickers … and finding strong candidates for the return game.


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