As noted earlier, my story for today’s paper focused on place kicker Erik Folk, as part of an effort to touch on every position group at some point during the spring.
In talking with special teams coach Johnny Nansen, I also asked him a little bit about the other major special teams units — punter, and punt and kickoff returns.
In each case, he pointed out that final decisions of who will start won’t be made until the fall — in the case of the punter because of the health of Will Mahan, who suffered a season-ending knee injury before the season game last season; and in the case of the returners, because some newcomers who won’t arrive until the summer could factor in.
Here’s what he said about each spot:
On the punting situation: “I think the punting thing is still up in the air as far as Kiel (Rasp) and Mahan. Mahan really still can’t plant with the left foot yet. But he is back to form to where he was in terms of leg strength and his drops and things are consistent. But I like where Kiel is at too. He has come a long ways and really becoming a big-time punter in my eyes. We’ll wait until the fall. Right now, we’re just worried with punting about the core (of the protection unit), trying to develop guys we can trust to do that. You look the last couple years we had all our starters be on those teams, which we will do again. But to have solid backups, we are more focused on our protection. We’ve got a lot of new kids, both guards, both tackles on those teams, all those guys are new, from Johnny Timu, (Tim) Tucker, (Thomas) Tutogi, (Jordan) Wallace — all those guys have been taking snaps. So they’ve got to understand the scheme and the situations that we put them in, so that’s where our focus is. Now we are punting every day, to get our young guys ready and understand our system before we get to the punters. The punters will be okay. They are working at it and we are filming and watching it, so I’m not concerned about those guys as much as the core of the punt team.”
On the punt returners: “It’s still up in the air. We still have the same body of guys we had a year ago, and the young guys, (Marcus) Peters and (Marvin) Hall, those are the guys that you watch their tape, that’s what they are good at. So hopefully those guys will be in the mix of things. But we’d like to develop Jesse (Callier) to be more consistent because I think Jesse is really the guy that could do both. But he’s got to be more consistent. And we have the same guys — DA (Devin Aguilar) and Cody (Bruns) — are still back there, sure-handed guys.”
On kickoffs: “Deontae (Cooper) and Jesse and Kevin Smith are all the same guys working. Hopefully Kasen Williams will be back there – he’d be nice to have. …. A lot of the freshmen could work in there. You look at after the first two games last year we had two freshmen taking care of the ball, so it won’t surprise me. But it’s nice to have Jesse and Kevin back there again and those guys are starting to have a feel for one another and that’s nice, so we’ve just got to build on that.”