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Minnesota Football 2021 Preview: Special Teams Upgrade / Downgrade

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A rare look at special teams and previewing the 2021 season

Nebraska v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The final Upgrade/Downgrade installment and it is a position group that has been ignored in year’s past. But after the 2020 season, this group needs to be talked about.

2020

Starter: Brock Walker (K), Dragan Kesish (K), Mark Crawford (P)
Depth: Anders Gelecinskyj (K), Michael Lantz (K), Brock Walker (K), Matthew Stephenson (P)

There were a lot of kids who kicked the ball for the Gophers last year. Walker led the team in PAT attempts and took 2 of the 4 FG attempts. Kesich took care of most of the kickoffs, but Lantz and Walker did as well. Crawford had 17 punts and Stephenson had 8.

A lot of names, not great production from anyone. Only made 4 FGs all year, taking only 6. Largely because there was very little trust here. 12th in the Big Ten in punting. And 14th in PATs, missing 3 over the 7 games played.

Punt return and kickoff return both finished 12th in the Big Ten. Cam Wiley led the team with 11 kickoff returns and it was Philip Howard taking most of the punt return duty. Neither were terribly impressive.

If there was a bright spot, it was kick off coverage. The Gopher kickers combined to finish 9th in the Big Ten in average raw kickoff yards and the Gophers collectively finished 2nd in net average kickoff yardage. Translation? The coverage unit did a nice job.

2021

Starter: Matthew Trickett (K), Mark Crawford (P)
Depth: Dragan Kesich (K), Brock Walker (K), Will Mobley (K), Daniel Sparks (P)

The hope in 2021 is that there is more stability with special teams and more trust granted to the kickers.

The biggest news in this area is the addition of Trickett, a transfer from Kent State. Trickett had a really nice career for the Golden Flashes. He was the MAC Special Teams POY in 2019 and 1st Team All-MAC in 2018. He is 94/95 career PATs and 47/57 in career FGs with a career long of 49 yards. He is very likely to be the team’s FG/PAT kicker from start.

Whether or not Kesich is going to handle kickoffs is TBD. Walker has had a lot of experience and if he had a strong offseason, he may be in the mix, but it seems unlikely. Lastly there was another offseason trasnfer, this one was Will Mobley from Temple. While at Temple he made 99 successful PATs, including 51 in a row, and has made 26 FGs. Certainly there are more options and more stability here.

In the punting department there is going to be some grace given to Crawford. As a freshman last season he was not fully healthy to start the year and was also a victim up the weird pandemic season. The hope here is that a more traditional offseason of coaching and strength training, that he will add some yardage to his punting while still being able to place balls inside the 20.

The return game is really a mystery, but again, it has to be better than last year. I would not at all be surprised to see Wiley returning kickoffs again. In 2019 when he was first able to play in his 4 games to retain his redshirt season, the staff put him in as the primary returner at the Iowa game. There is a reason they have put him in that position at basically every opportunity over the past 2 seasons.

Returning punts is wide open but this is most definitely an area of needed improvement.

Upgrade/Downgrade

So this unit goes from possibly the worst on the team to still maybe being the worst but it almost has to be an upgrade.

The kicking game should at least be stabilized and making PATs should once again be a thing that is expected. The punting game is going to be better due to having a more “regular” offseason for our newish kicker. And I’m really just crossing my fingers on the return game, mostly not looking for anything special.

Poll

Upgrade or Downgrade for the Gopher Special Teams?

This poll is closed

  • 78%
    UPGRADE: Trickett transferring and Crawford developing is a no-brainer
    (169 votes)
  • 19%
    NEUTRAL: It’s pretty mediocre year after year
    (42 votes)
  • 2%
    DOWNGRADE: Really this seems to get worse year after year
    (5 votes)
216 votes total Vote Now