Football: Season review — special teams

THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY: After a few years in a row of subpar performances, Jeff Tedford let special teams coach Pete Alamar go after last season and replaced him with the personable Jeff Genyk, a longtime special teams coach at Northwestern and head coach at Eastern Michigan.

But the problems persisted. In terms of sheer numbers, Cal’s punt and kickoff coverage actually got worse this season. With the bowl season still to play, the Bears rank 107th nationally in punt return yardage against (12.95 yards per return). They are also on of just seven teams in the country that allowed two punt returns for touchdowns this season (one on a blocked punt against Arizona State). Two teams allowed three punts to be returned for scores.

The Bears ranked 83rd in punt return defense last season (10.52).

Kickoff return defense got worse as well. Last year, Cal ranked 58th nationally (21.49). This year, the Bears are at No. 84 (22.48).

Luckily for the Bears, punter Bryan Anger usually backed the opponent up fairly well before they started returning it for all that yardage. At times, Anger may have outkicked his coverage.

Anger was the clear bright spot of special teams. He looked more like his freshman year when he was one of the best punters in the country. He was stiill solid last year, but had his share of inconsistencies. This year, Anger rarely had a bad punt and oftentimes forced the returner to backpedal significantly to field one of his punts. Considering the struggles of Cal’s offense, that was huge.

At 45.56 yards per punt, Anger ranks eighth in the nation. He was also a finalist for the Ray Guy Award.

One of the reasons Tedford hired Genyk was his history working with kickers. Cal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio still needs some work. The good news is he consistently drove the ball deeper with his kickoffs this season. The bad news is he is still extremely inconsistent with his field goals, and needs to prove he can produce in the clutch, like he did last season at Arizona State.

Tavecchio finished the season 11-for-16 on field goals but just 4-for-8 between 30 and 50 yards. He also missed a couple of clutch field goal attempts that could have proven to be game-winners for the Bears. Cal has to hope that his performance in the season-finale against Washington, in which he made a career-best 53-yarder and also added a 47-yarder, can carry over to next season.

Jeremy Ross had an excellent season as Cal’s punt returner, consistently slipping out of tackles and making something out of apparently nothing a number of times. He ranks 18th nationally (12.68 yards per return).

Between Isi Sofele and Keenan Allen, the Bears had a nondescript season on kick returns. Despite the explosiveness of both players, you never really got the feeling either was going to break off a big return. That is more a statement of the entire unit than the athletes themselves. The unit ranks 73rd in the country (21.32).

MOVING FORWARD: Tedford has stuck by Tavecchio and says he clearly out-performs Cal’s other kickers in practice. But more than any position on the field, the kicker should be evaluated by his performance in games because of the pressure that comes with the job. The Bears still have Vince D’Amato, David Seawright and Jed Barnett on the roster. You’d have to think competition will be heightened in the spring and the fall.

Genyk must find a way to improve both kick and punt coverage, whether it be by finding new personnel or changing the schemes. The good news is the kickers are doing their job, especially Anger, who will be back for his senior season and should be a frontrunner for the Ray Guy Award once again.

The loss of Ross as punt returner won’t be talked about much but it is a significant one. He helped with field position for an offense that couldn’t move the ball consistently. Allen should be a leading candidate to replace Ross, or perhaps Coleman Edmond.


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.

  • BlakeStreetBear

    CAL vs Va Tech in 2003 Insight bowl on right now on ESPN Classic.

    What an innovative offense and so well executed and brazen. I miss that Jeff Tedford.

  • Uh Oh

    Allen is a long strider and I think the prototypical punt returner should be a quick shifty guy, no?

    Also, I’m too worried about Allen getting banged up on a punt return, whereas we need him in the regular flow of play.

  • Bear_fan

    Kaelin Clay. He should be returning punts. If he can play the role of LaMichael James on our scout team, I think he would be a great return guy.

  • ScottyBear

    JO: Are you going to do a season review on the coaching staff?

  • Dan

    While Anger has a ridiculous leg, I disagree that he wasn’t inconsistent this season. He frequently seemed to pick the worst times to shank one or get off a poor punt. Usually he did so when a boomer was really needed.

  • rollonubears

    why can’t we recruit a a legit placekicker? you’d think there are a few out there that would like a Cal degree.

  • BA

    Agree with Dan. Anger is great when it does not matter, but when it is really needed, he shanks it way too often. Reno, AZ, and OR were all games where his inconsistency cost the Bears big time, IIRC.

    IMO, all Okanes reviews are filled with head scratchers. Not sure what he is watching or if he is watching at all.

  • carp

    I think the spread punt coverage with 4 players(3 blockers and the punter) deep behind the line of scrimmage can’t be considered a good approach to bringing down the returner.

  • milo

    I noticed the same thing about Anger. When the Bears needed a big booming punt…he shanked it a few times. I figured he was injured. That said, an Anger shank often went 45 yards, it just didn’t hang up there forever.

  • milo

    I noticed the same thing about Anger. When the Bears needed a big booming punt…he shanked it a few times. I figured he was injured. That said, an Anger shank often went 45 yards, it just didn’t hang up there forever.

    p.s. Cal use to have a great tradition at PK, Brien, Longwell, Wursting…but then again the teams were necessarily good.

  • BlueNGold

    Yes, Milo, but in those days the PK was usually the highest and most consistent scorer on the team, too.

  • Mr. B

    @ BlakeStreetBear

    Oh man, that game was great!

    Phoenix was solid…plenty of bars within walking distance of the stadium. Plus you could buy drinks inside the game! Sure made me cheer alot louder.

    Even better?
    The CAL offense was creative, dynamic and unpredictable. The players looked to be having fun while performing at their best. Even the Coach was smiling.

    Can we get back to that kind of CAL football?

  • milo

    I’m afraid the “nothing to lose” mentality that sparked the early Tedford offense might be gone given what’s at stake now…winning for revenue. But hey, that’s the price of success.

  • Calduke

    Since Anger’s freshman year he has somewhat untouchable; however, I’m glad to see some posts noting what I observed during the year. Thanks for speaking up

    Also, it seemed like on kickoffs, whether the kick went to the goal line or the 15 yardline, the receiving team always ended up near the 40 yard line.

  • Bear Backer

    Go Bears!

  • Zak

    This is not the first time we’ve heard this cringe worthy statement for Tedford.

    Tedford has stuck by Tavecchio and says he clearly out-performs Cal’s other kickers in practice”.

    He’s flat out not a good kicker. That fact that he’s been in a quality D1 program for more than 2 years is fishy.

    The above statement has also been used to explain mediocre starting quarterbacks Longshore and Riley.

    I take the statement to mean…we have not recruited well and our depth is weak.

    That being said, I still love my Bears and hope for better times.