2012 Spring Football Position Outlook: Special Teams

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[ ST – CB – S/NB – LB – DL – OL – TE – WR – RB – QB ]

Do you have the unfortunate fate of being cast with a name in the bottom 5th of the alphabet (pretty much ‘U’ and down)? Did you regularly get picked last for seat assignments or class schedules in school? Well for all those Victors, Zellers, and Witwickies out there, this post is for you! Think of the Special Teams unit as the alphabetically-challenge group on the football team not because they are necessarily bad but because they are usually the last unit evaluated in position breakdowns.

Not today, though. Today, Special Teams leads the way! They will be the unit that kicks off the spring football projections for each unit of Cincinnati’s 2012 football team. So without further adieu…

PUNTER

Starter: Pat O’Donnell

The senior has been the man for the past three years since Kevin Huber moved on to the NFL. I was shocked at the end of the 2012 season that O’Donnell wasn’t a finalist for the Ray Guy Award which is given to the best punter in college football. He has been steadily increasing his leg strength year after year and finished 16th in the country average punt distance in 2011. His shining moment of this past season was a 76 yard bomb against the NC State Wolfpack on national television. That kick was vintage O’Donnell who flipped the field for Cincinnati all season and allowed the defense to pin their ears back near the opponent’s goal line. Unless he breaks his leg between now and the spring game he’ll be the starter without a doubt. Plus if he isn’t at least a finalist for the Ray Guy Award in 2012, I might kill something.

Backup: John Lloyd

Lloyd was a redshirt freshman last season and although was eligible to play, did not take a single snap in 2011. With O’Donnell graduating, I’m hoping the coaching staff gives Lloyd some experience in garbage time (and there will be plenty of that against Fordham/Delaware State) to break some of his nerves of live gameplay. Remember, he hasn’t taken a snap since high school (CHCA, represent!) and will need to be weened in to take over in 2013.

PLACE KICKER

Starter: Tony Miliano

As a redshirt freshman Miliano did pretty well in his first season filling the enormous shoes of Jake Rogers. He was understandably nervous last year making only 68% of his field goals (17/25) but with that experience under his belt can only help him in 2012. Historically (and really obviously) kickers produce better numbers the more experience they have and that jump is noticeable between their first and second years.

Backup: A.J. Fleak

The walk-on didn’t see any playing time in 2011 as Miliano handled all of the snaps. He was thus redshirted and will serve as a backup again this Spring as someone to push Miliano for the starting place kicker role.

KICKOFFS

Starter: Pat O’Donnell

In essence, he was the go-to guy in 2011 because of his strong leg and will probably be called upon to fill this role in 2012.

Backup: Tony Miliano

Traditionally the place kicker would also handle kickoffs since it is a more natural motion for them. But Miliano shanked a number of kickoffs in 2011 and simply didn’t have the leg strength of O’Donnell. Unless both of those areas improve, he will continue to serve as a backup at this position.

KICKOFF RETURNER

Starter: Ralph David Abernathy IV

Why him?

That’s why.

Backup: Anthony McClung

In the KR role, the ‘backup’ is typically the guy who lines up alongside the ‘starter’ but only takes the kicks that the starter can’t reach like the ones near the sidelines. McClung will probably fill this role in 2012.

PUNT RETURNER

Starter: Danny Milligan/Anthony McClung

The Cincinnati Bearcats have had a hell of a time finding a solid punt returner since Mardy Gilyard left and it seems that whoever is slotted in that role get diagnosed with a serious case of the ‘Butterfingers’. D.J. Woods had that problem, Danny Milligan had that problem, and even Isaiah Pead had trouble hanging onto punts. In 2012 the winner will probably be decided as the guy who can simply catch the ball. Of the players on the current roster, Milligan has the most experience at this position but I could also see Anthony McClung getting some time here.

Backup: The other of the two who is not the starter.

DARK HORSES AT KR/PR

It’s not like Butch Jones to throw his freshman to the wolves if not out of necessity and it’s important to have a kid with nerves of steel taking the majority of snaps at these positions. That being said, don’t be surprised if the following players get tried out there this spring and Jones finds another RDA IV among his stock of young returners:

  • Adrian Witty – Redshirt sophomore; Deerfield Beach, Florida – One of the fastest players on the team.
  • Zach Edwards – True freshman; Middletown, Ohio
  • Alex Dale – True freshman; Memphis, Tennessee
  • Ti’on Green – True freshman Altamonte Spring, Florida