Countdown to Spring Practices – Special Teams

Welcome to spring football, 2022! With CU’s fifteen practices underway, the final installment of the spring previews is posted below. In addition to the unit-by-unit previews linked below, the “CU at the Game Podcast – Spring Preview: Offense” has been posted, with the “CU at the Game Podcast – Spring Preview: Defense” to be posted this weekend.

Previously posted

— Kickers (1) … Returning starter (bold):

  • Seniors … None
  • Juniors … None
  • Sophomores … Cole Becker
  • Red-shirt freshmen … None
  • 2022 Signees … None

— Punters (1) … Returning starter (bold); walk-on: italics

  • Seniors … None
  • Juniors … None
  • Sophomores … None
  • Red-shirt freshmen … Noah Hubbard
  • 2022 Signees … Ashton Logan

The Stats … 

If the roster of the CU kicking room seems a little sparse, well, it is. Gone from the roster is CU’s 2021 punter, Josh Watts, who earned honorable mention All Pac-12 on his way to posting the sixth-best punting average in the nation. Also “gone” is Mac Willis, who was the primary kickoff specialist in 2020 (Willis hasn’t exactly left the team. For the 2022 spring roster, Willis is listed as a … wait for it … cornerback).

The Buffs are putting all of their eggs into the basket of Cole Becker, last season’s placekicker, and freshman punter Ashton Logan, a member of the Recruiting Class of 2021, who delayed his enrollment to be a part of the Class of 2022.

Well, at least CU’s leading returners are back.

Oops, guess not … CU’s leading punt returner last year was Dimitri Stanley (now at Iowa State), while CU’s leading kickoff returner was Brenden Rice (USC).

The 2021 stats:

  • Cole Becker … 11 games … 14-of-20 on field goal attempts (long of 56) … 25-of-25 on PAT’s … CU’s leading scorer with 67 points …
  • Nikko Reed … one kickoff return … for 100 yards and a touchdown against Utah … one punt return for five yards
  • Chase Penry … two kickoff returns for 24 yards … three punt returns for 53 yards

Nationally … 

  • Punt returns … 18 for 255 yards (14.17 yards/return) … 9th nationally
  • Punt return defense … 38 for 407 yards and one touchdown (10.71 yards/return) … 109th nationally
  • Net punting … 39.50 yards/punt … 61st nationally
  • Kick returns … 21 for 603 yards and one touchdown (28.71 yards/return) … 5th nationally
  • Kick return defense … 18 for 378 yards (21.00 yards/return) … 64th nationally

Comments … It was a calculated risk. The plan was for highly regarded punter Ashton Logan to delay his enrollment until January, 2022, so he would not lose a year of eligibility (or burn his redshirt year) while watching as a backup to entrenched starter Josh Watts. It made sense … except for the extra year of eligibility afforded by the COVID year of 2020, giving Josh Watts the opportunity for a second senior year in 2022.

So, with limited scholarships, the CU coaching staff had a dilemma. Do you keep a proven kicker in Josh Watts, who had the sixth-highest punting average in the nation last year, and risk losing a highly rated recruit to keep Watts one more year? Or do you roll the dice, and go with the true freshman Ashton Logan, who has four years of eligibility remain?

Welcome to the Ashton Logan era.

On the kicking side, the CU coaching staff made a similar choice last year. Evan Price had been a steady contributor in the Buff kicking game, but was a walk-on. Rather than give Price a scholarship, the Buffs went with a true freshman in Cole Becker. Becker responded by making 70% of his field goal attempts (14-of-20), making 14-of-17 after a shaky 0-for-3 start, including a 43-yard game-winner in double-overtime against Oregon State.

Two short years ago, CU was flush with kickers … James Stefanou, Tyler Francis, Evan Price, Josh Watts, Paulison Fosu and Mac Willis were all on the roster.

It will be a much quieter room in 2022.

Burning questions for spring … 

  • Is two enough? You only need one good placekicker and one good punter, but without any backups on the roster, CU may be taking a risk should either of its specialists suffer an injury.
  • Who will be the new returners? With Dimitri Stanley and Brenden Rice taking their talents elsewhere, CU will be in need of new primary punt and kick returners. This is not likely to be settled until fall, but new candidates could emerge this spring.
  • Will special teams get the attention they deserve this spring? With starters established (by default), there is no competition this spring in the kicking game. But special teams can make or break a team in a close game, so they shouldn’t be ignored by the CU coaching staff this spring, despite all of the other pressing issues facing the team.

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