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100 Days to Kickoff: Position Previews - Kickers & Punters

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Out with the old, and in with the new.

Days to Kickoff: 42 Days

As the 100 Days to Kickoff series passes the midway point, this week will feature a series of position previews across the roster. These articles will go position-by-position to look at players that have departed, players that return from a year ago, new faces at the position, and the overall outlook for the 2017 season. The overall goal is to examine what the depth chart will look like next season and look at realistic expectations for each position group.


Since we’ve spent the past two weeks previewing the offense and defense, feel free to catch up on them here and here, as we continue on to special teams the next few days.

Departures

Tech’s all-time leading scorer. A multi-year starting punter and holder. Orange Bowl winners. That’s what Tech is replacing. Harrison Butker, drafted in the 7th Round by the Carolina Panthers in last spring’s NFL Draft, was last seen sending four field goals and three extra points through the uprights in Jacksonville. Meanwhile, Ryan Rodwell held each of those kicks, while contributing two punts, averaging 38 yards per attempt. Losing two key starters would be challenge enough, if that was all the attrition from the Tech ranks this winter. On top of that, would-be senior Grant Aasen, the only other specialist with game experience, after graduating last spring, decided to move on to Notre Dame, the seminary in New Orleans, not the university in South Bend, this fall, foregoing his final season of football eligibility.

Though Rodwell’s career yards per punt average was not world-shattering at 40.8 yards, his four years of Tech experience are tough to lose. Similarly, Butker’s 61.1% and 63.6% field goal averages his sophomore and junior year were nothing to write home about, helping contribute to a pedestrian 71.7% career average, but, his senior season, his stellar 88.2% rate propelled him not only to an excellent year on the Flats, but to his place as Tech’s all-time leading scorer and to his eventual NFL Draft selection as well. The years of experience and efficient production his final season, befitting the Industrial Engineering graduate, are intangibles that his replacement won’t have out of the gate. No one arrives on the Flats knowing what taking that last-second, game-winning field goal feels like.

To recap: Tech lost a kicker to the big leagues, a punter to employment, and a third veteran to the call of religion. That’s the versatility of a Tech degree at work.

Returnees

With all of them gone, where do we stand? Is there even anyone left on the bench to suit up for the Jackets this fall? Fortunately, the answer is yes. Shawn Davis, Shea Underwood, and Bennett Barton all return as depth at kicker. The three of them have at least been in the system before. However, with Butker taking every field goal attempt for the Yellow Jackets since the start of 2014, approximately zero of them have any game experience. Thus, Tech is forced to break in both a punter and kicker from scratch.

Newcomers

Early in the last recruiting cycle, Tech appeared to be in the most enviable position possible, in regards to specialists, obtaining commitments from both the number one ranked kicker and punter in the nation. However, Joseph Bulovas decamped for Tuscaloosa and the allure of the Alabama Crimson Tide. There went the kicking prospect. In an almost unbelievable turnaround, though, within the day, Coach Paul Johnson’s staff had signed Brenton King as his replacement, and he’s pretty good, too. Fittingly compared to Butker by From the Rumble Seat’s Ben Tankersley, King is the frontrunner to replace him. While it may take him a while to nail down his consistency as he gains experience, he went 30 for 38 in field goal attempts his last two high school seasons and he clearly has a strong leg. A Butker-esque floor for his replacement is just fine.

Tech still has the number one punter of the last recruiting class. Pressley Harvin III is big player and owns a high school per-punt average of roughly 44 yards, longer than Rodwell’s career average on the Flats. That doesn’t automatically translate to a bigger stage with better athletes, but, if Harvin’s production comes close to that from this season, that’s already an upgrade from the past few years of Rodwell. If Tech has to give up the ball, Harvin is able to get it as far down the field as possible.

What to Expect

This season, King and Harvin are on the inside track to start for their respective roles. Though there could potentially be a few transition hiccups at kicker, King should be a complementary replacement for the departed Butker. Similarly, because of inexperience, Harvin could hit a few road bumps out of the gate, though it is entirely possible he eclipses Rodwell once he settles in. That said, the two of them are primed to contribute and fill the shoes of the graduated specialists to a tee.

Projected Depth Chart

Projected Depth Chart

Position First String Second String
Position First String Second String
Placekicker Brenton King Shawn Davis
Kickoffs Brenton King Shawn Davis
Punter Pressley Harvin III --

So, how do you think the new-look specialists will fare this season?