We begin our season preview series with the often overlooked part of the game that can change the complexion of the game with the fewest amount of plays, percentage-wise. We Mountaineer fans are all too familiar with this, especially of late. Kick coverage last year was a marked improvement over the previous seasons, thanks in no small part to Coaches Dunlap and Lockwood handling the coverage teams, which will be continuing this season.
Daron Roberts was brought in to handle coaching the return game and he brings NFL special teams experience with him. The last few years have been conservative (to say the least) in the special teams approach with an emphasis on field position. Do I need to remind you of punting from the opponent's 35 (thereabouts)?
Roberts' stated goal is to score on in the return game:
"My philosophy is the catch is a given, first and foremost, and we're going to catch everything that comes our way," Roberts said. "Once that happens, we want to score. We're not looking at punt return and kickoff return as being safe types of units. We're looking at them as a true offensive play" - via Charleston Daily Mail
Among those reported handling the return duties (so far) are:
- Tavon Austin
- J.D. Woods
- Devon Brown
- Pat Miller
- Travis Bell
- Brantwon Bowser
- Stedman Bailey
- Brodrick Jenkins
While he's only been used as a kick returner in the past, Austin is looking forward to the chance to return punts this year:
“I definitely want to punt return,” Austin said. “I really have been waiting for that. When that comes through I can make a couple of plays on that end, too. I know I can put myself in the best position for the team to win some of the big games because special teams are a big part of the game. I know I can get back there and do something.” - via Times West Virginian
After fighting in camp for his job, the place kicking duties have been awarded to incumbent junior Tyler Bitancurt. Bitancurt struggled last season making only 10 of 17 field goal attempts. The struggled continued (for both kickers, honestly) during spring and the beginning of fall camp with many, MANY attempts being blocked. Coach Bedenbaugh has assumed responsibility for the field goal/PAT kicking teams and improvement has been steady as camp has worn on.
Handling the punting duties will be redshirt junior Corey Smith, who has never punted in a college game thus far. Coach Holgorsen is counting on him getting better at that now that the place kicking duties have been settled. No word as yet (that I'm aware of) if he'll still be a kickoff specialist as well.
Tomorrow, we break down the defensive backfield.