Football Guide: Positional grades for special teams
Projected starters: Casey Skowron, redshirt junior (kicker); Drew Riggleman, redshirt junior (punter); DaVonte’ Neal, redshirt sophomore (punt returner); Jared Baker, redshirt junior (kick returner); Samajie Grant, sophomore (kick returner)
Backups: Josh Pollack (kicker/punter), Ethan Keyserling (kicker/punter)
Departures: Jake Smith (graduation), Jack Flatau (no longer with team), Bret Miller (no longer with team)
Returning stat leaders:
Samajie Grant (2013-14) — 10 kick returns for 193 yards
Jared Baker (2013-14) — nine kick returns for 210 yards
Special teams were definitely not Arizona’s strong suit in the Mike Stoops era, and so far in the Rich Rodriguez era, it has been much of the same. Lackluster kickers have plagued Arizona fans for the better part of the past decade.
Last year’s starting kicker, Jake Smith, went only 12-19 on his field goals and was actually a decent kicker by Arizona standards.
Returning kicks haven’t been much better either, as Arizona averaged 20.5 yards per return and did not score a touchdown. The longest kick return last season was an unspectacular 34 yards by Jared Baker.
Punt returns followed much of the same path as kick returns, as unspectacular plays were the norm, and the team struggled to only 7.2 yards per punt return.
However, that should not be the case this season, as the shifty DaVonte’ Neal is slotted to return punt returns. Neal, who transferred from Notre Dame, is a prototypical punt return and will improve the return game.
Punter Drew Riggleman showed consistency with his 40.1 punting average over 56 punts last season. He is not an All-American, but he is more than capable at handling the punting duties and will do so again this season.
As a whole, special teams this year should be better than last season, but the difference won’t be significant enough to turn heads.
—Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter @HouseofPayne555