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Cal Football Fall Camp Preview: Special Teams

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If there's one silver lining from last year's dumpster fire of a season, the annual hand-wringing over this phase of the game took a backseat to more prominent issues such as offensive ineptitude and coverage breakdowns. It's still unknown whether special teams during most of the Tedford area was a weakness due to the position coaching, lack of players, insufficient practice time, or some combination thereof.

Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

Strangely enough, going into next season this group projects on paper to be a possible area of strength. New position coach Mark Tommerdahl is a veteran with over 30 years of experience. His LaTech squad last year was #1 nationally in punt differential thanks to a two-time Ray Guy award-winning punter and solid coverage.

If he follows the same philosophy as Dykes/Franklin on offense and Andy Buh on defense, the coverage/kicking schemes will be straightforward with an emphasis on fundamentals and execution. (Even as I write this, I have no idea what that looks like.)

Does this mean an end to rugby-style punting and a farewell to the Shield of Doom Death?

Honestly, it doesn't matter...As long we can center the ball as needed, and no longer have to rely on "punting equals winning."

Special Teams:

P: Cole Leninger(So)/Steffan Mos(Jr)
PK: Vincenzo D'Amato(Sr)/Noah Beito(Fr)/Matt Anderson(Fr)
Snap: John Sheperdson(Jr)/Brandon Madueno(Sr)
Holder: Jackson Bouza(Sr)/Steffan Mos(Jr)
Punt Returner: Chris Harper(So)/Bryce Treggs(So)
Kick Returner: Brendan Bigelow(Jr)/Darren Ervin(So)

If you believe EA Sports, Cole Leninger is the highest-rated player on the team. He showed off a big leg and admirable consistency for a true frosh last year. With off-season workouts and more experience, he should be solid again this season.

Despite early struggles, Vincenzo D'Amato settled into the position last year and provided a measure of consistency in the kicking game. He may not have a huge leg, but he was 12/14 under 40 yards. Over 40, he was only 4/9, though he did manage a career-best 52-yarder.

Juco transfer Steffan Mos backs up both kicking positions. He's likely to compete next year for the place-kicking position with highly-regarded incoming freshman Matt Anderson.

Snapper John Sheperdson filled in admirably two years ago in the Holiday Bowl against Texas and hasn't relinquished the position since. Perhaps the greatest testament to his reliability is that most fans don't know his name.

Harper and Treggs are good candidates to return punts. They both have great hands as well as elusiveness in the open field.

Although Brendan Bigelow is presently listed as the primary kick returner, it'll be interesting to see how Coach Dykes decides to weigh the risk/reward balance. Clearly, it's a tremendous asset to have a home-run threat touch the ball in as many ways as possible. But with Bigelow's injury history and the uncertain depth at tailback, don't be surprised to see someone else receiving kickoffs.

We might not ever get to the point where this phase of the game is a strength a la Beamer Ball. But it sure would be nice to eliminate it as a serial weakness. At risk of opening old wounds, close games agains 'sc and Oregon in recent years may very well have gone differently if not for critical special teams errors.

Special Teams Summary:

Position Coach: Mark Tommerdahl

Probable Strengths:

Punting. Leninger was solid as a true frosh despite being misused with rugby kicks. He should be better this year.

Snapping. At risk of jinxing the heck out of us, the longsnapping and holding have been reliable.

Kickoff returns. If they elect to use Bigelow here, hold your breath on every kick.

Potential Weaknesses:

Field Goal Range. D'Amato's accuracy fell off significantly outside of 40 yards. Expect Dykes to go for it on 4th a lot.

Mental toughness. Our execution in this phase of the game has ranged from snake--bit to disastrous. From fielding kicks inside our own 10 yard line to blown blocking assignments to ill-timed shanks, we've made a bad habit of making game-changing gaffes the rule instead of the exception.

Biggest Questions:

With a new offense and a new defense to install, will special teams get enough practice time?

Will Dykes allocate his 1st string players to special teams, or rely exclusively on backups?

Fall Camp Preview Series

QB Oline WR/TE RB Dline LB DB

Thanks for reading our preview series. At long last, fall camp opens up this week and Cal football is back. Coach Dykes and his staff sound like they have a game plan and the players should be chomping at the bit. Now let's get to work.

Go Bears!