Changes are afoot for the University of Akron football team in the coming week, and they begin on special teams.
Zips coach Terry Bowden said in his weekly news conference that they’re likely to make a switch at returner, a job freshman Hakeem Lawrence holds.
“Some guys have it; some guys don’t. ... We have to keep pounding,” he said. “I believe if you kick the ball in the end zone that’s the best because that’s the most penalized play in football and because that’s the best place to start — the 25-yard line.”
That might, indeed, be the case, but the reality of the situation is that special teams and the kick return aspect hold the potential to greatly alter a game’s profile.
Consider the loss last weekend to Ohio. The Zips began play from an average of their own 24-yard line; the Bobcats started from their 34 on average. Ten yards either way can be the difference between a crucial first down or going for a touchdown at a critical juncture instead of a field goal.
Bowden rattled off a number of possible replacements for the spot including Tyler Williams, Malachi Freeman and Quentin Hines.
But scratch Freeman. As the starting cornerback, he already sees a lot of reps during the course of the game, Bowden said. Also, kick returns aren’t just the most penalized during the course of a game, they’re also the most dangerous. Williams sees a lot of action rotating in as a receiver, leaving the possibility of Hines. It’s an intriguing one given that the senior provided the most electrifying play of the season with his 75-yard run against Tennessee, and he also possesses the speed. Whether he is that guy remains to be seen.
Lack of production is dictating changes on special teams, but injury has caused alterations to the defense.
Against Ohio, a familiar player got in on about 15 plays on defense.
Freshman linebacker Jamel Turner lined up at his natural position, but also saw some time at defensive end, mostly in the place of the injured Albert Presley.
Making an impact in so few appearances might be problematic for some, but at least in his first extended time on defense, Turner made his presence known by getting a sack and 2½ tackles for losses.
At 205 pounds, he had his issues as well, because the Bobcats’ guards and tackles also got the best of him. His effort impressed Bowden, along with that of lineman Alfonso Horner, who recorded eight tackles. Bowden added Turner would likely get more playing time against Northern Illinois on Saturday.
Bowden compared him favorably with Presley.
“[He has] big-play potential. Turner has that with a little bit more instincts,” he said. “It will take time for him to fully develop, but if he stays committed, you see potentially a great player three years down the road.”
The changes to the defensive front are mostly due to Nick Caponi remaining out with a high ankle sprain. His loss has left a glaring hole, considering the Bobcats rolled up 252 yards rushing last weekend.
Caponi was seen walking around campus without a boot or a noticeable limp. However, that doesn’t mean Bowden is ready to pronounce him ready to go.
“He is a day-by-day as is [Albert] Presley,” he said. “Caponi’s going to contest that every inch of the way because he doesn’t want to, but I don’t believe you can go in there and play his position and have that high ankle sprain not healed. He’s slowly getting ready.”
It would help the Zips immensely if Caponi and Presley returned. Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch might be the best dual-threat quarterback in the Mid-American Conference, having rushed for 988 yards on 129 carries and passed for 1,487 yards and 11 touchdowns on 109-of-173 passing. His passer efficiency rating stands at a lofty 148.43.
Presley’s return is conditional, Bowden said.
“His isn’t a matter of injury; it’s a matter of pain on that stress fractured fibula,” he said.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.