Our post-spring review concludes today with a look at special teams.
• Projected starters: KR LaDarius Perkins, Jr.; KR Jameon Lewis, So.; PR Johnthan Banks, Sr.; K Brian Egan, Jr.; P Baker Swedenburg, Jr.
• Backups: KR Robert Johnson, So.; KR Josh Robinson, R-Fr.; PR Chad Bumphis, Sr.; K Devon Bell, Fr.; P William Berg, Sr.
• The skinny: Let’s start this entry by saying that evaluating special teams play in the spring is a most unfruitful endeavor. Coverage units aren’t going full speed and trying to level people, and kickers aren’t being tested in true pressure situations. So I don’t know how much review this is going to involve.
Perkins and Lewis are pretty well settled in on kick returns, but they need to be more productive. That duo averaged a combined 20.2 yards per return last season. As a team, MSU averaged 18.5 yards per return, which ranked last in the SEC. We know Lewis and Perkins can be explosive players, but obviously they and/or the blockers need to figure something out.
Bumphis and Banks have been interchangeable on punt returns, and I put Banks as starter only because he had twice as many returns last year. Both players returned one for a touchdown, but overall they weren’t that productive. Take away the TDs, and Banks averaged 6.7 yards per return, Bumphis 6.4 per return. So again, State needs more from this unit.
Kicker is an interesting position, and filling Derek DePasquale‘s shoes won’t be easy. Egan has one badly missed field goal attempt in his career, and he’s the de facto starter until Bell arrives. There should be a decent battle there. Egan has decent leg strength, but he still had only six touchbacks in 60 kickoffs last year. The holder for field goals and PATs will be Chris Cameron, who’s back with MSU after a one-year Mormon mission. His presence can’t be overstated.
Swedenburg is the strongest, most consistent member of the special teams. He had really only one bad punt last fall and is very good at placing kicks deep in opposing territory. Snapping to him and to Cameron will be Reed Gordon.
Special teams is the position coached by Dan Mullen, and over the years it’s underachieved in several areas, in particular the return game. I’ve heard murmurings of Mullen needing to give up those duties, although it should be noted that each assistant coach has to work with certain parts of special teams.
But ultimately, the responsibility for special teams play falls on Mullen, who places a high value on that aspect of the game.