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Georgia Tech Football: 2016 Position Previews - Special Teams

In which we use important statistics but project our bias to show the results we want.

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Countdown to Kickoff: 40 days

Today, we close out with our position-by-position previews with one last high-level look at the special teams in 2016.

Who’s gone?

As mentioned in earlier articles, we lose return man extraordinaire Jamal Golden. Long snappers Sean Tobin graduated and Trevor Stroebel plans on leaving the program as well. While not a return man or specialist per say, it will certainly also hurt to lose Chris Milton who blocked 7 kicks over his career and also did a tremendous job when used as a gunner.

Who’s back?

With the loss of Jamal Golden, the return game will be certainly an interesting area to watch for next year. I’d expect Marcus Marshall, who received the next most kickoff returns to be the main guy there. As far as punt returner, Mikell Lands-Davis, Brad Stewart, TaQuon Marshall, and Qua Searcy all returned one punt each (credit to Tyler Duke) and the guy there will either be determined by Pokemon Go battles or whoever does better in camp.

On another note, all 3 starting specialists will be back next season. Ryan Rodwell and Harrison Butker return for their final year on the Flats, while long snapper Casey Wilson begins his first full season as the projected starter.

Projected Depth Chart

Position 1st String 2nd String 3rd String
Kicker Harrison Butker Shawn Davis Ryan Rodwell
Punter Ryan Rodwell Grant Aasen Shawn Davis
Long Snapper Casey Wilson Lucas Patelles 1st volunteer
Holder Ryan Rodwell Grant Aasen
Kickoff Return Marcus Marshall Qua Searcy
Punt Return Qua Searcy Brad Steward Mikell Lands-Davis

Needs

Like every other group on this team, the special teams unit will be looking for great improvements for a repeat of 2014 and not so much 2015. Let’s take a look into a breakdown of the most important special teams statistics and see if we can find what was missing from this past season, that will need to be improved upon for next season.

Field Goals
Year 0-29 30-39 40-49 50+ FGM FGA PCT
2014 5-5 2-7 3-4 1-2 11 18 61.1
2015 0-0 3-4 2-3 2-4 7 11 63.6

Overall, his percentage went up slightly, but it doesn’t really tell the full picture here. Harrison Butker seemed to have a pretty overall solid season this past season vs 2014. Apart from the dreaded Notre Dame game WHICH I MISSED A HALL AND OATES SHOW FOR, his only misses came from 50+, one of which was blocked. Overall he was 63.6% which is okay, but it could have definitely benefitted from more kicks as well. A good season will be a necessity for a team that struggled on offense.

Punting

Year Net Punt # Punts Touchbacks Return Yds (Opp.) TDs
2014 35.63 32 2 105 0
2015 35.83 47 0 109 1

Aside from the Duke game, these stats look pretty much identical year over year. Despite 15 more punts, the punt coverage team allowed only 4 yards more this past year in fewer games. Also of note is that Rodwell did a good job of avoiding touchbacks. Although, in my expert opinion it would be better to punt less.

Kickoffs

Year # Kickoffs Average Touchbacks Touchback % OB TDs
2014 87 63.29 52 59.77 1 0
2015 62 63.31 41 63.31 0 1

Again, that Duke game seems to be the other outlier as far as bad special teams coverage, but other than that it seemed like kickoffs were solid. Butker put 66% of his kickoffs out for touchbacks, and with no kicks out of bounds. Another solid year like this from Butker would make life that much easier for the coaches and players.

Returns
Year # Punt Returns Avg Punt Return # Kickoff Returns Avg Kickoff Return TDs
2014 12 8.08 41 21.76 0
2015 20 9.45 31 19.03 0

I was honestly expecting there to be an awful lot of difference between these two years, but it doesn’t seem like it. While losing Jamal Golden will certainly hurt, there should be plenty of young guys ready to step up to the plate such as Qua Searcy, Brad Steward, etc to help this production out.

Final need

So what was the key difference between the Orange Bowl run and last season? What can the coaches help do to get this team back in Miami in December? What was the missing puzzle on special teams last year? I think you all know.

Year # Times Ryan Rodwell Was Body Slammed Orange Bowl Wins
2014 1 1
2015 0 0

I rest my case.