FALL PREVIEW: SPECIAL TEAMS

FALL PREVIEW:  SPECIAL TEAMS

Whittingham leads an improving special teams unit into Fall Camp, but will they be the difference needed to go bowling?

After the departure of long-time Ute assistant coach Jay Hill to Weber State, the special teams unit now falls under the leadership of Head Coach Kyle Whittingham. Whittingham worked intensely with this group throughout spring and it will certainly be a major focus for him as the Utes enter fall camp. Whitt has top level talent in punter Tom Hackett, placekicker Andy Phillips, and long-snapper Chase Dominguez as anchors for his squad. What are the biggest challenges this group will face between now and August 28th? I see two: first, fixing poor return coverage on kickoffs must be a priority and second, adding an explosive punt and kick return game. Both were sore spots for the team in 2013.

Pre-Fall Camp Depth Chart

Punter
Tom Hackett

Kicker
Andy Phillips

Punter Returner
Geoff Norwood
Bubba Poole

Kickoff Returner
Dominique Hatfield
Geoff Norwood

The Contenders



Kicker


Andy Phillips
Phillips is already considered amongst the best in the Pac-12 and perhaps the country as he enters his second season with the Utes. His challenge in 2014 will be to live up to his "Automatic Andy" nickname and remain consistent throughout the season. While he started off strong in the first half of 2013 his accuracy eventually waivered during Utah's late-season skid. Phillips had a great spring camp and made multiple field goals of 50 yards or more. He still needs to improve his distance on kickoffs and gain the strength to consistently kick it out of the endzone if possible. That would certainly help a struggling kickoff coverage unit which had major troubles in 2013.

By the numbers - Andy Phillips lead Utah in scoring last season: 92 points


Punter


Tom Hackett
Who lead the Pac-12 in punting last year? Utah dubiously with Tom Hackett leading the way as the Pac-12's top punter and first team all-conference selection. Utah had 76 punts last season; only USC had more (79). With a struggling offense in 2013, Hackett became a weapon with his dynamic rugby style approach. Look for him to continue as one of the best in the conference. Hopefully he can do it on just 50 to 60 punts in 2014.

By the numbers - Tom Hackett lead the Pac-12 in punting net punting average: 40.2 yards/punt


Kickoff Returner


Dominique Hatfield
Domo has really taken his game to the next level. He had a very strong showing this spring as a receiver and special teams threat. Look for Hatfield to be a major contender for one of the two returner spots this season. He's got the speed and moxy needed to be a great north-south returner, the question will be can he consistently field the ball without dropping or fumbling as well as get the timing down needed for optimal returns.

Kaelin Clay Clay is your wildcard when it comes to potential return men on special teams. He was an all-world performer as a kickoff and punt returner at Mt. Sac., but the question of how his speed and skills will translate at the D1 level still remains. Plenty of Utah insiders view Clay as the real deal with both speed and game changing abilities comparable to a big time performer like De'Anthony Thomas. This is all speculation as few have actually witnessed his capabilities in person outside of the coaching staff, but rest assured all eyes will be on Clay this fall.

By the numbers - Utah's longest kickoff return last season: 30 yards

Geoffrey Norwood While Norwood had plenty of opportunities as a punt returner in 2013, the same can't be said when it comes to kick returns. That could change in 2014 as he's listed as a probable starter going into fall camp. Without a doubt Norwood is a fierce and fearless runner, but he doesn't have the breakaway speed of others in this group. He is a strong candidate to start in this unit this season.

Delshawn McClellon Delshawn had his chances early in the 2013 season before being replaced by Dres Anderson and Dominique Hatfield. With more choices available at this position, it's unlikely that McClellon's roadrunner game gets off the ground with this special teams unit. He has dangerous speed, but his fielding ability and decision-making was questionable last year and needs marked improvement if he's going to wrestle a starting spot away from one of his teammates.

Punter Returners


Geoffrey Norwood
Norwood handled the majority of Utah's punt returns last season returning 27 for an average of just 8.6 yards. Norwood, a former walk-on, is a gutsy returner who made several big plays for the Utes last year, but wasn't the game changer they needed. He's got some talent and is certainly a hard worker, but he may not have the breakaway speed needed to be a huge threat to opposing teams. You love a tough player like Norwood in this spot, but you also like someone with the speed and quickness needed to move the ball downfield.

Bubba Poole
As Bubba's time at running back increased last season, his time as a punt returner fell off. While he did have a couple of scary moments and made a few questionable decisions, Poole actually had a pretty good average of 16.4 yards on just five returns. That nearly doubles Norwood's 2013 overage of 8.6. Poole is shifty returner and did well bringing it up the middle. He'll be a strong contender at this spot in 2014.

By the numbers - Utah's longest punt return last season: 40 yards

Troy McCormick
With talented running backs like Bubba Poole and Davontae Booker listed ahead of him, look for McCormick to get opportunities to contribute primarily on special teams in 2014. Troy has the moves, the speed, and the mindset to be a great punt returner, but he's got to focus on making smart decisions when it comes to fielding a punt.

Kaelin Clay
A real wildcard, Kaelin has the playmaking ability to be a threat as a wide receiver, kickoff returner, and punter returner. Will he make that much noise this season? Not likely. Chances are if he's contributing well as a kick returner and within the receiving corps, he'll likely lose consideration as a punter returner. Most expect he'll be a special player in at least two of these spots, the question remains, which spots will they be?

Projected Post-Fall Camp Depth Chart

Punter
Tom Hackett

Kicker
Andy Phillips

Punter Returner
Geoffrey Norwood
Troy McCormick

Kickoff Returner
Kaelin Clay
Dominique Hatfield

UteSportsReport.com Recommended Stories


Up Next


Forums


1,017 Fans online
    Join The Conversation

    Tweets