The Daily Hoosier is previewing each position group during the final days leading up to the opening kickoff of the 2021 Indiana University football season on September 4 at Iowa.
In our final profile we take a look at the specialists.
The 2021 specialists are for the most part a group of returning veterans with the primary exception being the punter. And Indiana’s overall improved roster depth should help them maintain favorable field position with kick and punt coverage and returns.
Indiana will look to continue a favorable trend of improved play in this area. The special teams were a strength of the team in 2020, with the Hoosiers ranked sixth nationally and second in the Big Ten according to the Football Outsiders’ FEI Special Teams and Field Position rankings.
Let’s take a look at the specialists.
Redshirt junior Charles Campbell had a fabulous debut in 2020. He connected on 10-of-11 field goals (90.9 percent) and all 25 extra-point attempts. Campbell was second team All-Big Ten and PFF rated him the No. 10 kicker in the nation.
Sophomore Chris Freeman from Zionsville, Ind. will be the backup.
Jared Smolar will be the kickoff specialist. The Valparaiso, Ind. product averaged 62.2 yards on 44 kickoffs with 22 touchbacks (3rd in the Big Ten). His touchback percentage (50.0 percent) ranked fifth in the Big Ten
Freeman will be the backup with Campbell also a possibility.
Freshman James Evans had never played football or visited the United State before the spring, but the New Zealand native is expected to step in and be a good punter from the start. He comes from the same kicking academy as the departed Haydon Whitehead.
Redshirt junior Chase Wyatt from Noblesville, Ind. is the backup.
Junior David Ellis is listed as the primary kick returner but he may not be ready for week one as he is progressing through the recovery from a lower leg injury incurred at fall camp. He returned one kick for 25 yards in 2020.
Receiver Jacolby Hewitt is listed as the No. 2 on the depth chart. He returned four kicks for 59 yards in 2020. Reese Taylor also returned a kickoff for 21 yards last season.
Reese Taylor and D.J. Matthews were listed on the depth chart as the No. 1 and No. 2 punt return men, respectively. This one will be interesting to keep an eye on.
Taylor returned nine punts for 73 yards with a long of 21 yards. He was the only IU player to return a punt. Taylor was honorable mention All-Big Ten as a return specialist and IU’s special teams player of the year.
Matthews ranks 10th at Florida State with 582 career punt return yards and 56 returns, and he holds two of the top-4 single-game marks. It would be surprising if he didn’t get opportunities. He was a PFF top-20 punt returner in each of 2017 through 2019.
LONG SNAPPER AND HOLDER
Sean Wracher returns for his third season as the starting long snapper, with Jake Wellmann returning as the backup. Wracher was Phil Steele’s third team All-Big Ten two seasons in a row.
Wyatt and Smolar will handle the first and second string holding duties.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Campbell on what he worked to improve —
“I had a good season last season, but it’s last season. You’ve got to move forward. I did miss a kick and obviously don’t want to do that, so in this offseason – this summer and fall camp – I’ve just been working on getting ready with a new holder, Chase (Wyatt), and just getting the operation down and being as consistent as possible.”
Special teams coordinator Kasey Teegardin on Evans —
“He’s taken steps every single day. There’s a learning curve for him so every single day is something new. We put our backed-up punt in. We had the volume up loud. That was probably the first time he’s ever had to kick in that situation. We’re trying to simulate playing at [Ohio Stadium] or playing in Iowa City. Those guys are right on top of you. Every single day it’s something we’re throwing at him or something he’s learning from. He gets the ball off, gives a good kick with good hang time. You just try to prepare him and put him in those scenarios. I think he has grown a lot.”
Taylor on the punt return competition —
“We have a lot of good punt returners on the team. There are multiple people that can do it. Me, D.J., David Ellis, there’s a lot of people back there that could have this job. But were all just out there having fun, playing the game of football, and whoever is up, that’s who going to make a play for us.”
MORE 2021 POSITION PREVIEWS
- The cornerbacks
- The safeties and huskies
- The defensive line
- The linebackers and bulls
- The offensive line
- The wide receivers
- The tight ends
- The running backs
- The quarterbacks
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