Stevens: Lobo Special Teams Need To Be Special in 2010
April 16, 2010
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
If you break the kicking game down to a few basic elements, kickoffs and punts succeed or fail for simple reasons.
1. The kick was good or bad.
When Toby Neinas isn't coaching linebackers for the University of New Mexico, he puts on another hat that encompasses areas of the game that can dramatically effect the scoreboard and all-important momentum: the special teams.
This is the kicking stuff and it's a two-pronged beast in each discipline because you stand on both sides of the football when it comes to kicking off, punting, and booting field goals.
"There are so many opportunities for huge swings in momentum," said Neinas. "You want very good players out there on your special teams."
The momentum shifts are obvious enough, but here are few examples of sudden impact:
1. Utah has marched down inside the UNM 10-yard-line but has to settle for a field goal that will give the Utes a 10-7 lead. The field goal is blocked and UNM's Carmen Messina runs it back 90 yards for a Lobo score. UNM goes into the half up 14-7.
2. BYU is up 14-12 and punting the ball with 40 seconds left to play. UNM's Jaymar Latchison blocks the punt giving the Lobos the ball at the BYU 25-yard-line. James Aho hit's a game-winning field goal with three seconds to play. UNM wins 15-14.
Yeah, the kicking game is big-time important. Neinas believes that the punting aspect of special teams tops the list in importance and potential impact.
"I think if you asked most football teams, you'll find out that the punt is one of the most important plays in the game," said Neinas. "We work on punt every day. A lot of teams do that, most teams do that.
"If you are a young guy not starting and want to make the travel team, get on the punt team and you have carte blanche. Punt guys travel before kickoff guys. There might not be a better way to be on the travel squad than being on the punt team or being the starting quarterback. The punt is a big, big play."
Arguably, the biggest play in the punting game is the blocked kick. You love to get a block. You hate to give up a block.
The other end can be dynamic, too: the return. The Lobos were not very good in returning punts in 2009.
"We were very poor," said Neinas. "I think punt return was the single most disappointing (special) team coming out of last season. We lost Ian Clark and we struggled."
The Lobos got 68 yards off 19 returns in 2009. That was a 3.6 average with the longest return 11 yards.
On kickoff returns, Kasey Carrier is the top returnee with a 23.3 average from 2009. Williams had a 21.7 average last season. UNM also is looking at Demond Dennis, Myles Daughtry and Michael Scarlett. "And maybe we'll have a freshman who comes in and explodes," said Neinas.
The toe in the punting game should be redshirt freshman Ben Skaer. "Ben has never been in a major-college game, but he's a real mature young man," said Neinas.
"He might not have the pure leg strength of Adam Miller (44.0 average in 2009), but Ben has the ability to elevate the football so we can get under it. If the ball only goes 42 yards and we net all 42 yards, that's success.
"If the ball isn't in the air very long, I don't care who you have covering, the ball is coming back fast. A good kick gets good coverage. A bad kick gets bad coverage."
Junior James Aho has a lock on the field goal job coming out of spring ball, but Neinas is looking for Aho to improve on his 61.9 percent ratio of 2009.
"You need to hit it 75 percent or better and that number comes from all distances," said Neinas. "That means you need to be 100 percent on the short ones."
Aho did OK on the short ones last season, but was 4-of-10 from 40-plus yards. The Roswell product was 9-of-11 inside 40 yards. Aho was 18-of-24 as a freshman.
Aho is in a battle with Garrett Hentrup and Greg Rivara to see which Lobo kicks off. Hentrup won the job in 2009, but Rivara and Aho are pushing him for that duty. "All three of those guys need to improve their consistency," said Neinas.