Despite a change in coordinator, Cal's special teams still struggled in 2010. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
1. Was Jeff Genyk's special teams units better, the same, or worse than Pete Alamar's?
HydroTech: I know that *statistically* special teams apparently got worse, but I feel like they got better. What was better? Kickoff depth was better. And... that's about it. On the other hand, kickoff coverage was inconsistent and on the whole was probably slightly worse. Punting was worse, and punt coverage seemed to be slightly worse. Field goal kicking was about the same. But despite those decreases in performance, I feel like the opportunities were there to be better. The team just missed a tackle here and there or failed to execute.
I do feel like Genyk is making an impact though. His changes can be seen (kickoff coverage formations, PAT protection technique, kickoff depth, punting formations). The results are hit and miss, but I think he's on the right track.
Kodiak: I thought that they were better-coached. They showed a lot more cohesion early in the year, and became more ragged later in the year as injuries and less practice time took their toll.
2. Did you like how Cal played more of their first-teamers on kickoff/punt coverage? Or do you believe there should be a more dedicated special teams unit filled with second-teamers and walk-ons?
HydroTech: The best players should always be on the field at all times whenever reasonably possible. If that means starters do special teams, then so be it. Of course, the more time players are on the field, the more
likely they are to get injured which is always a concern. But I think it's a risk that has to be taken. Special teams is often overlooked as a place where teams can get away with playing inferior players because special teams aren't really thought of as that important. But they are important. Games are won and lost on field goal protection, PAT protection, kickoff coverage, kickoff returns, punt coverage, and punt return. It seems illogical to me to put inferior players out on the field instead of superior players. I understand some teams might do it to protect better players, to get inferior players some playing time, and because a lot of first teamers don't like the stigma of being a special teams player, but I think the rationale for playing starters outweighs the rationale of not playing starters on special
Ohio Bear: I'm a believer in putting your best special teams guys on the special teams unit. If that means putting first teamers out there, I am (within reason) okay with that.
Berkelium97: Whoever does the better job should play. If first-teamers are better than a dedicated special teams unit, then they should play and vice versa.
Kodiak: I think special teams are important, so I like that we played our first-teamers. I like that the attitude has been established that special teams is a badge of honor and not like playing right field in baseball. However, I wish that we had sufficient talented depth that we could play 2nd+ teamers on special teams. Let the 1st teamers focus on the game plan. Let the reserves focus on special team.
3. How satisfied are you with Bryan Anger? What does he need to improve?
HydroTech: I'm only mildly satisfied with Anger. He's inconsistent. Some punts he booms. Others he shanks. I think part of the problem is because Genyk installed rugby style punting which is throwing Anger off. Next year I'm hoping for more consistency.
Ohio Bear: I'm generally satisfied with Bryan Anger. He is obviously a very good punter, one of the best in college football. If he needs to improve anything, I guess it would be in being "money" in clutch situation, such as when field position is at stake. His shank at Arizona ended up costing us 3 points. He had an untimely shank in the first quarter at Oregon State when we could have used even an average punt to at least attempt to stem the onslaught. But at this point, I'm sort of picking nits with Anger. There is not a whole lot to complain about with him.
Berkelium97: He's a great punter and it's difficult to name any area where he can realistically improve. He occasionally botches a punt, but I only notice those because the rest of his game is solid. We can't expect him to get a perfect kick 100% of the time, so it seems a little unfair to say he should improve his consistency. That said, he can be a better player by improving his consistency.
Kodiak: He's clearly got the potential to be a great punter, but I have him classified solely as "above average/pretty good" until he improves his mental toughness. He kicks well when there's nothing on the line. He kicks poorly under pressure situations. He'll need to figure that out to be considered great.
4. How satisfied are you with Giorgio Tavecchio? What does he need to improve?
HydroTech: He needs to improve his consistency. On the whole though, he isn't far off from the national average on his field goal completion. He's not as bad as everyone thinks.
Ohio Bear: I was extremely dissatisfied with Tavecchio, his final game performance against Washington notwithstanding. He just hasn't emerged into the reliable placekicker we need. It's not too much to ask a Division 1 FBS kicker to make a 29 yard field goal early in the 4th quarter; it's not too much to ask a Division 1 FBS kicker to make a 40 yard field goal to ice a game we should win; it's not too much to ask a Division 1 FBS kicker to make more than 50 percent of FG attempts between 30 and 49 yards long. To be fair, it was good to see Tavecchio improve on kickoffs. The average starting field position for the opposition after a kickoff was the 27-yard line. The way kickoffs went the last couple of years, I found that a welcome change. It might have been an even better stat for us if our kickoff coverage had been better.
Berkelium97: Kickoffs are much, much better than they were last year. Despite the missed field goals against Arizona and Oregon, he actually had a pretty good year with field goals. He has shown he can nail the 50-yarders, he just needs to improve his consistency.
Kodiak: I appreciate that his hard work created consistently deeper and more accurate kickoffs. I am sensitive to the fact that kickers often require maturation time and that most kickers struggle for a year or two before figuring it out as upper classmen. That said, there's a part of me that is deathly afraid that he simply doesn't have it upstairs. I'd like to say that he'll learn from his travails and be tougher than 7-Eleven beef jerky for his senior year. But most of me is afraid that our kicking game remains a game of Russian roulette.
5. The kick/punt return game was lackadaisical this season. Who will emerge as our returners next year?
HydroTech: Keenan Allen.
Ohio Bear: Good question. Perhaps Steve Williams will be the next guy to return punts for us. I'm also intrigued at the prospect of one of the young WRs stepping into the role.
Berkelium97: I was pleased with Keenan Allen returning kicks and indifferent to Ross' performance returning punts. Allen returned punts to fill in for Ross against UW. If Allen and Edmond can team up to return punts and kicks next year, the unit should be in great shape. Their speed should help consistently set up good field position.
Kodiak: Put the ball in Keenan Allen's hands. I suppose you could be Sofele/Clay/Edmond back there on kickoffs...But seriously. Give the ball to your best player. End of story.