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Cal Football Spring Preview: Special Teams

Does anyone remember the good ol' days when we had an explosive offense, a not-awful defense, and we could nit-pick our special teams?

After watching Coach Pete Alamar's body of work at both Fresno State and now down on the farm, I'll admit that it was the wrong move when we make him the scapegoat firing years ago.

But if there was one positive to gleam from last year's 1-11 season, Andy Buh's defense so enthralled us with its magnificence that we had no spleen left with which to discuss our special teams.

If anything, this particular phase of the game gave us what might have been the highest point of the season:

Mark Tommerdahl(Special Teams)
Damon Harrington(Strength and Conditioning)

How do the staff changes affect Special Teams?

Scheme-wise, no major changes are anticipated.
From a philosophical standpoint, some teams use their 2nd and 3rd teamers on special teams. Others make it a point of pride to play their starters. It's hard to discern where Dykes/Tommerdahl fall on this spectrum because last season's MASH epidemic often forced us to play whoever could suit up.

Hopefully, there will be unit-wide improvements as the young players forced into early duty from injuries last year have gained experience and strength.

Our newest class of recruits have been almost universally described as tough and athletic. Many of them will be counted on to contribute early as special teamers.

One other factor to consider will be the amount of time and personnel that we are able to allot to special teams. With new schemes on both sides of the ball and preponderance of youth at key positions, you'd think that last year's focus had to be on the basics of offense and defense as well as learning how Dykes wanted to run his practices. Offense and the overall flow should be more familiar. Yet once again, we find ourselves installing a new defense.

Biggest Questions for Special Teams:

1) Who wins the starting job as place-kicker?

Matt Anderson and James Langford are the frontrunners here. Anderson was highly regarded as a high school recruit while Langford was the star of spring ball two years ago. After sitting out a year via transfer from Cal Poly, it's unknown why Langford wasn't on the roster last year. With neither kicker having proven themselves under pressure at the Div-I level, you just know that first game at Northwestern will come down to a walk-off field goal attempt...

2) Will our return game score any points this year?

Our returners have been sure-handed, but no one is afraid when they kick the ball to us. Are there any game-breakers to be found from our deep receiving corps?

3) Can Cole Leininger continue to develop?

Quietly, Leininger had a solid year and ranked second in the conference last year at 42.9 yards per game. He's already a known quantity. Can he become a game-changer by flipping fields or pinning opposing teams into unfavorable field position?

4) Is there a new Sheperdson waiting in the wings?

If you just said, "who?" then it means our long snapper has been doing his job. John Sheperdson has been reliable to the point of invisibility since taking over in the Holiday Bowl three years ago. He and Cary Kriegsman are both seniors, so someone needs to be groomed when it's time to pass the torch.