Football: Season review — special teams

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Not much. Punter Bryan Anger overcame a disappointing start to the season to have another solid campaign, although not at the level many expected when he was named to the preseason watch list for the Ray Guy Award. Anger finished fourth in the Pac-10 and 34th nationally in punting (42.3 ypp). Shane Vereen established himself as a capable kick returner before he had to give up those duties to become the primary tailback.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Just about everything. The Bears were ninth in the Pac-10 in kick coverage. While Giorgio Tavecchio improved the depth of his kickoffs as the year went on, Cal’s coverage team consistently yielded big returns. That included a 61-yarder by Utah’s Shaky Smithson in the Poinsettia Bowl, which may have been the final straw in special teams coach Pete Alamar’s job security. Alamar was fired after the season. The Bears also finished last in the Pac-10 in field goals as Tavecchio and Vince D’Amato combined to go 15-for-24.

IN SUMMATION: Poor special teams coverage had become a trend in recent years, and it became so blatantly bad this season that Alamar lost his job.

MOVING FORWARD: Whomever takes over special team coaching will have to figure out what is ailing the Bears’ coverage teams. Is it techinque? Strategy? Personnel? It is something that will be closely examined in spring practice. Anger should be solid at the very least, a dangerous weapon at the most. Tavecchio and D’Amato will continue to compete. Field goals were disappointing for both of them; Tavecchio’s kickoffs appear to be improving. Jeremy Ross has potential as a returner. He took back one punt for a touchdown this season. Isi Sofele could be a dangerous kick returner next season.


Jonathan Okanes

Jonathan Okanes is in his fourth year covering Cal's football team. Previously, he covered Cal's men's basketball team for four years. He can also be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/OkanesonCal.

  • Jan K Oski

    I got my wish for an Alamar dismissal, but I hope Tedford demands that Vereen takes KO duties and uses the depth at RB as a benefit not a burden. Vereen is too valuable to carry the entire load by himself, but too valuable to be on the sideline for establishing the position of the offense. Addition, if it is between him and Isi, any kicker will be expected to kick it out of the endzone at best or at least kick it out of bounds.

    Finally, I’m not convinced that Ross is a potential returner. I’ve witnessed too many times on reverses that he doesn’t understand how to use blockers nor how defenders are trying to shed the block as he always goes for the outside. The speed is obviously not there, and he is easily taken down for a short gain. If he would cut up field where there’s an opening, he could make one of his great moves on one or two defenders. Perhaps, he’ll learn this by watching film. Still, why not use Isi on punts as well, if he isn’t going to be used that much on offense? Once upon time there was a small ND football player who dazzled his way to stardom and NFL money by doing that and WR duties. Wake up, Ludwig! Use Isi to spread the defense!

    Go BEARS!

  • Calduke

    Every Bear kickoff was a very scary experience

  • covinared

    I don’t think returns are a big area of concern, although I am puzzled why so few punts returns were attempted. The most glaring weakness was kick off coverage. It was consistently bad throughout the entire season. Also, I would not risk injury by having the feature running back also be the primary kick off returner.

  • dball

    Covinared, so few punt returns were attempted because the blocking was so horrible, it would have been suicidal at worst and counterproductive at best for Sydquan to attempt to try. I think Sydquan may have only had one or two returns in the first 4-5 games, the others were all fair-caught because the coverage team was on top of him by the time the ball got there. Its a sad state of affairs when one of the top punt returners in the country has to fair-catch 80% of the time.

  • covinared

    Dball, I partially agree with you. I remember some early games more than once where it appeared Syd had plenty of running room, but still fair caught the ball. In the later games Ross was the primary punt returner. He was more daring. Syd may have been hurt, but then had the only trustworthy hands in the eyes of the coaches. Who knows? Many apsects of this year are a puzzle.

  • milo

    I hope the next ST coach has some kicking experience. Being able to get the ball to at least the 5 yard line will do quite a bit on KO coverage. You simply can’t give the ball to the opposition at the 30-40 yard line.

  • Old Bear

    Attention World:

    Free college education to anyone who can kick the football into the end zone.

    Have open tryouts during spring practice.

    Can’t hurt.

  • milo

    Old Bear — good call. Given the student population and very, very good soccer team, why hasn’t Cal opened up try outs? Hell Giorgio was only a scholarship soccer player for UC Davis before he walked on. There has to be someone with a bigger leg.

  • MikeD

    #6 for Santa Margarita HS in the OC was a lefty kicker who went 2 yds deep into the end zone on kickoffs and hit a 47yrd’r with plenty room to spare vs Mater Dei in Santa Ana earlier this year.