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Countdown to Spring Practices – Special Teams

Note … This is the first in a series of unit-by-unit spring previews. A new unit will be previewed every few days over the next month, leading to the start of spring practices in late March. The defensive backs preview will be posted on Sunday …

The Roster … 

bold = returning starter … italicized = walk-on

— Kickers (1):

  • Seniors … none
  • Juniors … none
  • Sophomores … Evan Price … Tyler Francis
  • Red-shirt freshmen … Mac Willis
  • True freshmen … none
  • 2021 Signees … Cole Becker

— Punters (1)

  • Seniors … none
  • Juniors … Josh Watts … Paulison Fosu
  • Sophomores … none
  • Red-shirt freshmen … none
  • True freshmen … none
  • 2021 Signees … none

The Stats … 

Evan Price took over the place-kicking duties for the medically retired James Stefanou early in the 2020 campaign, and made five of his six field goal attempts. Price was good from 45, 36, 36, 41 and 19, and had a 44-yard attempt blocked. Price also had ten kickoffs, with four touchbacks. Mac Willis had 14 kickoffs, with six going for touchbacks.

In his first year as CU’s punter, Josh Watts had 27 punts, while opposing kickers had 28. Watts averaged 40.89 yards per punt, while the opposition averaged 44.46.

Kickoff returns were spread over five players, with Maurice Bell having the most opportunities (5 for 115 yards), followed by La’Vontae Shenault (2 for 55 yards) and Brenden Rice (2 for 37 yards).

Dimitri Stanley handled almost all of CU’s punt returns, with nine returns for 75 yards. His total yardage was eclipsed, however, by the one memorable punt return posted by Brenden Rice, who had an 81-yarder for a touchdown against Utah.

Nationally … 

  • Kickoff return defense … 22.81 yards/return … 89th nationally
  • Kickoff returns … 19.57 yards/return … 74th nationally
  • Punt return defense … 8.58 yards/return … 84th nationally
  • Punt returns … 14.6 yards/return … 11th nationally (take away Rice’s TD return, and CU would be ranked 52nd)
  • Net punting … 37.26 yards/punt … 89th nationally

Comments … In a shortened season, with a new coaching staff, no spring practices, and an abbreviated Fall Camp, it is certainly understandable that special teams in 2020 were underwhelming. There were many other priorities on both sides of the ball than special teams, and CU did not have a designated special teams coach.

That being said, the first spring practices of the Karl Dorrell era, opening in late March, will likely still be pretty quiet on the special teams front.

Evan Price, who made 5-of-6 field goals as a freshman in 2019, then 5-of-6 as a COVID-year sophomore in 2020, won’t have competition until Cole Becker arrives as a scholarship kicker this fall (Price is still a preferred walk-on).

Josh Watts will also return as the incumbent despite being out-played by the opposition in 2020. I’ve always figured the best way to gauge CU punters is by comparing their stats against CU opponents – same games; same altitudes; same conditions. And, by that measuring stick, the Australian import did not have a great season. Watts had 27 punts during the 2020 season, while opposing kickers had 28. Watts averaged 40.89 yards per punt, while the opposition averaged 44.46. Opposing kickers had ten punts of over 50 yards; Watts had three.

Cumulatively, Colorado lost almost 150 yards of field position – or 30 yards per game during the regular season – to the opposition. Perhaps that is why the CU coaching staff felt it necessary to use a (precious) scholarship this recruiting cycle on a kicker (Cole Becker), with punter recruit Ashton Logan enrolling in January, 2022.

All of CU’s kick and punt returners from last fall will be back, but returners are not usually named until deep into Fall Camp, and that will likely be the case again with this staff.

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5 Replies to “Countdown to Spring Practices – Special Teams”

  1. Punters cant hide. Is that like “Money Ball?” I never watched it.
    Didnt Texas Tech hold a student body tryout for a place kicker many years ago? Punting seems a bit simpler to do. There has to be someone out in the tens of thousands of the student body who can kick the crap out of the ball….at least when it comes to “swtching fields”
    Then again I guess there is the danger of out kicking your coverage. I assume some one filter stats for that…….distance vs return yardage.

  2. Yo Stuart,
    You can’t just compare punters because they played in the same game. It makes a big difference if you’re punting from your own 20 compared to punting inside the other team’s territory.
    Lots of coaches will punt even if the line of scrimmage is inside the 40. Others go for the first down. Punters adept at putting the ball out of bounds inside the 20 frequently have lower averages. Lots of things change the average.

    Mark / Boulderdevil

    1. Over the course of a season – unless you are Alabama’s punter, and only get a dozen opportunities per season, and never from your own end zone – short and long punt opportunities balance out. Watts and his opposite had about the same chances to put the ball inside the opponent’s 20 (Watts 9; opponents 8) and had about the same number of touchbacks (CU 1; opponents 2) and fair catches (Watts 7; opponents 6), but when given the chance to switch the field, the opponent’s punters were much more effective than was Watts (50+ yard punts: Opponents 10; Watts 3). That’s where the significant discrepancy in averages came from … given the chance to flip the field, opponents did it twice a game … Watts did it three times in five games.

      1. Yo Stuart,
        Dating myself here, but I really miss having a guy like Barry Helton booming the ball. Trading punts with CU back in those days led to better field position for the Buffs just about always. Helton still remains the only punter I used to like watch warm up before games. The ball just exploded off his foot. And who can ever forget the 51 yard punt with his non-kicking foot?

        Looking forward to Dorrell improving upon the special teams play. While coaching at UCLA, his punters usually averaged about 42-43 yards per punt, except for one year when it was below 40.

        One thing the Buffs need to pick up is the pressure they are putting on the opposing punter. If opposing punters are averaging that high, it means that CU is not getting enough pressure. A couple of blocked kicks does a lot to make opposing punters aware of the possibility.

        Looking forward to the season.

        Mark / Boulderdevil

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