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Sorting through the special teams

By mrasor Published: April 22, 2009

Special teams have been J.D. Brookhart's pet project for the past couple seasons.
You can't argue with the results. The once-atrocious kicking game has been sturdy. The returners have excelled. But there is still room for improvement. With Bryan Williams gone, it is imperative that Akron maintains some sort of advantage on kick returns. The place kicker can get much better. Andre Jones took a large step back statistically in 2008, presumably because teams were avoiding him.

    Here is a look at each special team...
    Kick return -- Finding a replacement for Williams is key. Dashan Miller was the backup in 2008 and returned 13 kicks, averaging 24.3 yards. Jeremy Bruce and Andre Jones returned a combined 13 kicks, and their stats were worse. The depth chart also shows Nate Burney and Manley Waller behind Miller and Jones. This might be the niche for DeVoe Torrence, unless injuries force him into taking 20 carries per game at running back. Hopefully the coaches consider using Torrence on special teams in some way.
    Punt return -- Jones led the MAC in punt returning by a wide margin in 2007. In 2008, his stats went from 14.5 yards per return to 6.6. A lot of it was that he returned only seven punts total. Teams lofted the ball or punted out of bounds. In the big picture of field position, that's not a bad thing. Burney, Bruce and Jones are listed as co-leaders for the punt-return job.
    Kicker -- The 2008 kicking stats tell two different stories. Igor Iveljic was 15 of 20 from field goals of 38 and shorter. That's pretty good. However, Brookhart called on Iveljic for eight field goals of 39 or longer. He only made three of them. Overall, Iveljic was an unflattering 64.3 percent. Because of the accuracy problems on long field goals, the coaches are considering Branko Rogovic as the primary place kicker. Rogovic wowed the fans during the spring game with a booming 45-yarder that easily could have sailed through the uprights from 55. Regardless of who wins the job, Akron will be sure to have a decent place kicker. Rogovic's job of kicking off is secure.
    Punter -- As the punter for the past three seasons, John Stec has been just good enough to keep his job. Ala Lloyd Christmas in "Dumb and Dumber," Stec totally redeems himself after sinking. Zack Campbell, a sophomore from Canton McKinley, is listed as the backup. It seems more likely that if Stec loses his job as a senior, it will be to incoming recruit Josh Couch, who has "big-time potential," according to Brookhart. In that same sentence, Brookhart indicated that this will be Stec's job in 2009.
    Coverage units -- Kick and punt coverage are the other two "teams" that make up the term "special teams." That is where Brookhart hones his focus. Although it is excruciatingly boring for sports writers, Brookhart devotes a lot of practice time to blocking and tackling techniques as they pertain to kick and punt coverage. Generally, the players involved are second- and third-stringers. With Akron's depth at linebacker and its talented, youthful secondary, Brookhart should have plenty of athletes to make plays on the coverage units. This is another place for Torrence, in my opinion.

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