Cal should have a very special year in special teams play this season. Tom Schneider has developed into a top college kicker and he should be rock solid his senior year. Last year, we discovered that punter Andrew Larson could be an NFL quality guy. DeSean Jackson is the best punt return man in college football. Nick Sunberg might well be the best long snapper in college football. Wow. Cal special teams coach Pete Alamar must be sleeping well at night.
“Tom (Schneider) has grown so much every year,” Alamar said. “He understands that kicking is his craft and he works on it. He has improved his body with Pilates. He looks for ways in all areas to improve himself.”
“We do graduate our holder (Joe Ayoob), so we have to look for somebody there.”
Who every is back there holding, they know the ball is on target. “Nick is the best long snapper in the conference,” Alamar said. “He is a snap-aholic. He snaps at least 200 balls a day, every day. How important is that guy?”
Then there is Jackson. “Obviously, with DeSean back there, we have to take a look in the spring at what people were doing. We will look at a couple of different things. It became a situation where teams were not going to punt to him. We’ve been to that movie ourselves (remember UCLA’s Maurice Drew?). Against A&M in the Holiday Bowl, that one-yard punt was because they were not going to put to DeSean.
“We’re thinking about dropping two guys deep. Vary our stuff. We know that people won’t want to punt to DeSean, so we have to sell our punt return group on the idea that we must take advantage of our opportunities.”
There is a move in the NCAA to move the kickoff spot back to the 30-yard line. Alamar said he will have to deal with that issue in the spring because such a move will put more pressure on his kickoff team.
In terms of kickoff return, Lavelle Hawkins is a leading candidate. Young guys such as James Montgomery, Daniel Lofton, Jeremy Ross and Bryan Schutte will get a long look. Sam DeSa figures in that mix.
OK, so why not put Jackson back there, or Syd-Quan Thompson or Robert Jordan? All three are hovering around the 170-pound area and kickoff returns mean high-speed collisions. “I would hate to have something happen,” said Alamar, who doesn’t want to explain to coach Tedford that one of the nation’s top wide receivers or his top corner is out because of a train wreck on a kickoff. “We have to ask ourselves if we are being smart,” Alamar said.
Alamar has a strong cast of potential candidates in terms of blocking and tackling. Guys such as Justin Moye, Kyle Kirst, Marcus Ezeff, Matt Russi, and Will Ta’ufo’ou have shown that they take pride in their special teams assignments. “We had Mike McGrath and then Byron Storer, so the bar has been set high,” Alamar said.