April 15, 2008

Spring Preview: Special Teams

One of the hallmarks of the Iowa Hawkeyes string of success from 2002-04 was excellent play in all aspects of special teams. During that stretch, there are several games where fans can point to that were won due to special teams plays. This past season, Iowa's special teams showed some improvement after a couple of years of struggling in nearly every aspect. We take a close look at special teams this spring.

THE FACTS

Position Coach: Lester Erb and Darrell Wilson

Starters Lost: Long snapper Dan Olzsta

Starters Returning: Ryan Donahue, Austin Signor/Daniel Murray

Spring Two Deep

PK: Daniel Murray, Austin Signor
KO: Austin Signor, Daniel Murray
LS: Andrew Schulze
PR: Paul Chaney, Colin Sandeman
KOR: Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Paul Chaney

THE ANALYSIS

The margin for error is never great in Iowa City and the Hawkeyes have to excel in all three phases of the game, one of those being special teams. Over the course of the last three seasons, this is one area that fans can point to and say there has been an overall decline in performance from the Hawkeyes.

Certainly there were improvements last year with the excitement that Derrell Johnson-Koulianos provided on kickoff returns, the hard hits by players like Jamie Murphy, and the second half the season performance by punter Ryan Donahue, but it was still spotty and inconsistent at best.

Donahue returns for his sophomore season as one of the more consistent performers on special teams. He had his struggles early in the season with one kick a game that misfired, but his 41.1 average per kick and hang time leading to a 39.4 net per punt was excellent. Donahue is expected to continue to improve and build upon his performance in 2008. He will be backed up by redshirt freshman Eric Guthrie from Nevada, IA.

At placekicker, it is still a two horse race between sophomore Daniel Murray, who is listed with the first team, and junior Austin Signor. Last year the two split time at place kicker, with Murray connecting on 7 of 10 attempts and Signor hitting 3 of his 6 attempts. Murray is known as the more consistent kicker, while Signor possesses the stronger leg, which is why he has handled most of the kickoff duties in the past year. They both could get a strong push this fall from incoming freshman Trent Mossbrucker from Mooresville,IN.

Iowa's kick and punt return and coverage game was a mixed bag this past year. The kickoff return game was enhanced with the exciting play of Johnson-Koulianos and Chaney, who bring plenty of speed to the field. Iowa averaged almost three more yards per kickoff return last fall and both will be back on kickoffs again this year. Chaney will also be in the mix at punt returner along with Colin Sandeman. Chaney's game breaking ability and speed are something that the Hawkeyes want to get involved on special teams this fall once again.

Last season, Iowa's punt coverage was still very good, averaging 6 yards per return, but the kickoff coverage was a real mixed bag, giving up 18 yards per attempt, but that included several blown coverages.

For Iowa to make a move back up the standings in 2008, all phases of the special teams have to be very strong. It will be key to become more consistent in kickoff coverage, to make plays in the return game, and to block/pressure more kicks and punts.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Trent Mossbrucker - 6-foot and 190 pounds from Moorsville, IN


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