Now that we have the player personnel issues discussed we need to talk about what I consider one of the most important aspects of a football team; the Special teams play. Let’s look at the defensive (punting) special teams first.
There are no other plays, save maybe a deep pass completion, that either gain or lose big yardage in one fell swoop than the kicking game. A good punt and coverage can switch the field position of the opponent just as a deep kickoff and coverage can pin an opponent back in its own territory. If a team can do that on a regular basis it has a huge advantage in-game and can even negate whatever talent shortcomings it might have as compared to the other team’s players.
PITT didn’t do that last year and it hurt us. Our departed punter, Matt Yoklic, was pretty effective with his leg averaging a 20th nationally 43.0 yards per punt. He shanked one or two kicks but overall he hid a good job as our punter both last year and seasons before. It wasn’t his punting that hurt; it was the porous punt coverage by the punting team. We gave up 16.25 yards per punt return which is way below the punting “Mendoza Line” and left us smack dab at 118th in the country.
That has to change and fast. This year we’ll have highly rated rsFR Ryan Winslow as the punter. He was recruited specifically to be put on scholarship and I think that is just the way to build a key component of our defense. Winslow came out of high school as the #4 nationally rated punter and had a chance to spend a year with Yoklic learning the college game. I don’t recall how good Yoklic was at directional punting but I seem to remember that Winslow was doing that pretty well in camp last year. We need that skill so I’ll pay attention to it when I go up to the Southside next week. One nice thing is that we didn’t have any punts blocked last year and that was because Yoklic was quick on the draw.