Welcome back to another exciting year of special teams analysis. I, for one, am excited because of the new faces and players that we will see at the specialist positions this season. Notre Dame will debut two new players at the specialist positions and before getting into Texas, let's take a look at both, along with the possible return men.
Kicker: Justin Yoon
- Scout: 4 star, 1st in class
- Rivals: 3 star, 1st in class
- 24/7: 3 star, 2nd in class
- ESPN: 3 star, 2nd in class
Yoon enters Notre Dame as arguably the highest-ranked kicker to ever start for the Irish. Yoon missed the majority of his senior season with an injury, but went 9-11 (long of 48) on field goals, 38-39 on extra points, and 37-53 for kickoff touchbacks as a junior. Yoon was widely regarded as the best high school kicker in the country in 2015. In the Under Armour All-American high school football game, Yoon made 3 field goals, including a long of 47.
Pre-season reports on Yoon have been very high. Coach Brian Kelly said to the media, regarding Yoon: "His operation is outstanding, his 1.21 (seconds) operation, which is as quick as we've had," noted Kelly, referring to how quickly Yoon gets the ball kicked once it has been snapped. "Really solid. Hits the ball solid. Very consistent. Doesn't have any mechanical flaws … Even if he hits one a little heavy he's still clearing most of his kicks with great ease."
While he has yet to kick a single ball at the Division 1 level in a game, I am very optimistic that things will not drop off greatly from last season. Range might be an issue but ND's gameplan against LSU in the bowl game last season showed that Brian Kelly can and is willing to adjust if kicking from distance is an issue.
Punter: Tyler Newsome
- Rivals: 3 star, 6th in class
- 24/7: 3 star, 6th in class
- Scout: 3 star, 8th in class
- ESPN: 3 star, 8th in class
Along with Justin Yoon, Tyler Newsome will be seeing his first snaps of the football this season. Newsome, a redshirt freshman, also comes to the Irish as a highly-ranked specialist recruit with incredible leg strength.
Coach Kelly also had positive words for Newsome as well, stating, "I think we charted his average as 51-yard average at 4.06 to 4.13 (hang time) on an average, which is ridiculous. If we can get anything like that in a game we’ll flip field position." Coach Kelly is right, that is an absolutely ridiculous number. A 51 yard average with 4+ second hangtime would have Newsome in the mix, if not the outright lead, for best punter in the country.
Like Yoon, we have yet to see what he can do in a game but hopefully we see good things.
Off-Topic: Looking at both guys, I am left with no other opinion than shame at all of the recruiting services. Both of these guys are Top 10, if not Top 5, at their positions, neither of them is a 5 star, and Yoon only got a 4th star from one service. They are not quarterbacks, running backs, defensive backs, etc., but they are players just like the rest of them. If the services are not going to rate the TOP RANKED PLAYER AT A POSITION a five star, then I can do nothing but laugh at the stupidity of the whole arbitrary, inconsistent, laughable process. Rant over, onto Texas.
Returnmen: Amir Carlisle/C.J. Sanders/C.J. Prosise/Will Fuller
Notre Dame's first depth chart featured three names at the kick return position (Carlisle, Sanders, Prosise), and two at the punt return position (Sanders, Fuller). This list would likely have been much much shorter if not for the departure of Greg Bryant. Only Carlisle has fielded kicks in the past for the Irish before and I was happy with his efforts in the past. While not in special teams plays, we have seen electric plays last season and in preseason camp from Sanders, Prosise, and Fuller. I will have a review of their performance(s) after Texas but right now, I am optimistic, provided they can get opportunities on Saturday, as you will see below.
Senior Nick Rose returns for the Longhorns after having a relatively below-average 2014 season, very similar to Kyle Brindza's performance for the Irish. Rose went 14-21 on field goals last year, with a long of 51 against Oklahoma State. That percentage put him at 83rd in the country in average. Rose does have experience, having started 39 games in his college career. His misses last season are from all over the place, leading me to believe that he is spotty in form and/or suffered from holding troubles, a la Kyle Brindza last season.
On the kickoff, Texas last year averaged allowing 30.07 yards per kick return, good enough for 125th, or dead last in the country. It's hard to go anywhere but up, but ND is most certainly going to have opportunities at good returns on Saturday and this is absolutely one spot where they can take a big advantage. As Texas (or any team) has yet to show anything this year so far, it is hard to see what they are going to be like this year, but dead last certainly indicates that it is likely a position of weakness for Texas.
Kick and Punt Return
Texas last season averaged 19.56 yards per return, ranking them 98th in the country last season. Their primary return man, per their most recent depth chart, will be aspiring rap artist and wide receiver, Daje Johnson.
Last season, Johnson took 4 returns for 98 yards, an average of 24.5 yards per return, good enough for the 2nd best average on the team. All four returns came in Texas' bowl game vs. Arkansas. He did not take a punt return last season. As Texas lost their top three primary return men for kicks and punts from last season, it will be interesting to see how well Johnson does in an established role over the course of an entire game at both positions. Is he disciplined enough to hold onto the ball? Can he flip the field? We will see. I am also interested to see if Yoon even gives him opportunities to return the ball at all.
Texas will be debuting a new punter this season in unranked true freshman Michael Dickson, an absolutely massive (6'3'', 210 lb) kid from Australia. Dickson has an incredible leg and accuracy and I, for one, and excited to see how he will do.
As for formations, Texas runs a hybrid version of the spread formation, with a focus on block-protection.
Because of this focus, as you can imagine, Texas allows quite a bit of return yardage from punt return units. Last season, Texas allowed an average of 10.18 yards per punt return, good enough for 98th in the country. While it is likely that C.J. Sanders will be seeing his first chances for returns on Saturday night, this is a good test to see if he is smart enough to fair-catch when he needs to, and also explosive enough to take advantage if he can. Texas is, quite frankly, not good at coverage, whether it be kick or punt. This is a spot where ND can flip the field.
While this is not as intensive as my usual posts, there is not much to analyze at this juncture; three of the four specialists will be making their first collegiate starts on Saturday. ND and Texas are also featuring return men with not much experience. This is going to be a good test for both teams. I am excited. I also welcome your questions and comments.