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Cal Football Spring Review: Special Teams

Two years ago, Coach Tedford finally made a move and replaced long-time special teams coach Pete ALAAAAAMMMMAAAARR with Coach Jeff Genyk. Unfortunately, the past two years have largely been an exercise in frustration. On the plus side, Giorgio Tavecchio developed into a reliable kicker. On the minus, Bryan Anger never realized his potential and appeared to have his booming leg marginalized by a maddening insistence on using rugby-style kicks. Coverage and return teams remained a resounding meh. Perhaps worst of all, we more than likely set a school record for having our extra points blocked.

Although Coach Genyk sounds the part when he talks about teaching fundamentals and paying attention to detail, it's really difficult to appreciate the on-the-field product. Going into most contests, there was the sense that we were already at a disadvantage in one phase of the game.

With a stand-out punter like Bryan Anger and a whole host of dynamic athletes to chose from as returners, it remains mind-boggling why our team continues to lose the field position battle. In more than one instance last year, a critical special teams error completely changed the field and cost us points.

It seems like there's more of an emphasis on using "clever" schemes like the Shield of Death, leaving the backside rusher on kick attempts unblocked, or using two punt returners regardless of field position. Perhaps these would be more successful with more practice time or different personnel. Or, maybe we would benefit from focusing on more basic formations and better execution?

Sadly enough, there's not a lot of sunshine to pump looking forward. With both Tavecchio and Anger moving on, we're breaking in two new kickers. Although Cal has a number of prominent kickers and punters as distinguished alumni, I am at a loss to remember one who didn't struggle during their first year as a starter.

To add to the uncertainty, we'll also have a new longsnapper. With Matt Rios leaving the team at the end of last season, sophomore John Sheperdson took over and handled the longsnapping during the Holiday Bowl. To his credit, very few (if any) fans noticed the substitution. It might not be a bad thing for Mr. Sheperdson to give Dom Galas a few pointers.

Vincent D'Amato will have to show that he's the guy during spring ball. The only other kicker listed on the roster right now is walk-on Benjamin Calder. We'll have to hope that D'Amato has steadily developed his leg strength and accuracy in a Tavecchio-like career arc.

The punting position is an even bigger question mark. With backup Jed Barnett transferring, there are no punters listed on the roster. Greyshirt safety Jordan Morgan did some punting in high school. But besides that, it looks like we'll have to wait until fall camp and incoming true frosh Cole Leninger to know who's handling the punts. Coach Tedford did mention that backup TE Richard Rodgers has some experience as a punter and will get a look this spring. However, this unlikely to be more than a stop-gap measure. I cannot confirm nor deny that Quinn Tedford has been practicing rugby-style kicks all off-season.

Either the coaching staff is really high on Mr. Leninger, or the man who once flew to Australia and back to recruit a punter needs to update his MySpace page with what he really feels about the importance of special teams.

Biggest Special Teams Questions:

1) Is D'Amato ready to handle the place-kicking? If not, where do we turn?

2) With Anger graduating and Jed Barnett transferring, will incoming frosh Cole Leninger be ready for Div-I?

3) Special teams has been inconsistent under two different position coaches. Is this personnel, coaching, or does this phase of the game not get enough attention in practice?

4) For the love of Oski, can we block for an extra point?