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Indiana Football 2018 Season Preview: Special Teams

The Daily Hoosier is previewing each position group during the final 10 days leading up to the opening kickoff of the 2018 Indiana University football season on September 1 at Florida International.

Today we look at the Special Teams.


For most football fans, the special teams tend to be an afterthought, but in football, and especially college football, they can make or break you.  For a program like Indiana going through the rigors of the Big Ten, special teams excellence is essential.

Let’s face it, teams like Ohio State, Michigan and others have players on special teams that would be starting in most programs throughout the country.  Because of that, there can be mismatches that lead to big plays.

Two commons themes throughout the offseason have been improved depth and speed.  Both of those factors will go a long way in ensuring that the special teams in 2018 are a valuable third phase of the game.

WHO IS GONE

The biggest void is left by kicker Griffin Oakes, who gave the Hoosiers four strong years and now leaves the Hoosiers in the awkward position of testing out new legs.

Also gone is primary kickoff returner Devonte Williams.

Rashard Fant and Chase Dutra were also key in kick coverage situations.

WHO IS BACK

Punter Haydon Whitehead is back and getting national recognition on the Ray Guy Award watch list.  He averaged 40.7 yards per boot last year, and pinned teams inside the 20 yard line 33 times.

Long-snapper and holder Dan Godsil and Drew Conrad are back as well.

Punt returner J-Shun Harris is back from injury.  He was having a fantastic 2017 season before succumbing once again to a knee injury.

Head coach Tom Allen has indicated that junior walk-on Logan Justus is the leading contender for the kicking job.

WHO IS NEW

The other name to know in the kicking competition is true freshman Charles Campbell, a 3-star recruit.  The job is reportedly down to Campbell and Justus.

Also new is the role of coach William Inge, who is now the full time special teams coordinator.

WHAT THEY ARE SAYING

Coach Inge discusses the special teams at fall camp:

THE OUTLOOK

Indiana had the worst kickoff return defense in the Big Ten last year based on yards per return.  Some will say that they truly only gave up a couple big returns (Penn State, Maryland) — but that is the whole point here.  Those returns were back-breakers.  If this team truly is faster and deeper, that should certainly show up in kick coverage.

The kickoff return game is an area that must improve as well.  IU’s longest return of the entire 2017 season was just 31 yards.  It isn’t clear yet who will assume the role of kickoff returner, but collectively the group should have nowhere to go but up.  They’ll also be wrestling with a new fair catch rule that allows teams to fair catch a kickoff inside the 25 yard line and be awarded the ball at the 25 yard line.

J-Shun Harris should provide sparks in the punt return game.  Of course that comes with the disclaimer — if he can stay healthy.  IU didn’t get much out of its punt returns after he suffered another season ending injury against Maryland.  Luke Timian can fill the role if called upon.

Haydon Whitehead should continue to put the punt coverage in a good position.  IU was relatively strong in this area last year, and once again, a deeper, faster team should be particularly strong covering punts.

It will be difficult to have a high degree of confidence in whoever is named the kicker.  Until he attempts a high profile kick, we really know nothing.  Whoever he is, he’ll have the benefit of experience with Godsil and Conrad in the mix.

Of course there is a whole cadre of additional players rounding out the various 11-man units — and ultimately they will be just as critical as any of those mentioned here that handle the ball in some manner.


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