Years ago, NFL Network host Rich Eisen brought to light the ongoing ignorance toward core special team members—players who are in their own world throughout most of the week as it relates to the the team. Taking special teams for granted is commonplace; special teamers are not acknowledged unless they’ve won the game or blown it.
Punter Zach Feagles falls into the latter category. QB Malik Rosier took the brunt of the ire from a local and national perspective regarding criticism and blame for team struggles. With an average yards-per-punt of 38.1, Feagles scrapes the bottom of the national punting ranks. Another legacy commit as part of the 2017 recruiting class, it was widely assumed that Feagles would easily slide in as the heir apparent to standout Justin Vogel, now with the Green Bay Packers. As a team, the Hurricanes rank 122 out of 130 FBS programs with 37.7 yards-per-punt during the regular season.
As much as we want to come to the defense of our punter, it proves a difficult task. Being a freshman does grant some reprieve from criticism, yet when you examine the list of punters in the nation there are 13 freshmen at the position who outplayed Feagles. Maybe you can place some of the pressure on the player being a legacy commit. Zach is the son of former New York Giants and University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame member, Jeff Feagles. His brother Chris was also an ACC punter at one point, carrying on the family lineage for the University of North Carolina. Living up to the Feagles’ name when it comes to punting, but also the standard that UM expects of all its players, may have caught up to the punter.
With the Hurricanes placing their last three punters in the NFL (Vogel, O’Donnell and Bosher), it’s a fair assessment to officially acknowledge the U as ‘Punter U’. There is no written standard in the UM facilities regarding the expectations of a punter specifically, yet they’re held to the same standard as any other player. For the Hurricanes to improve upon the successes of last season, they’ll need Feagles to not only flip the field, but flip the switch to become a baller.
By all assumptions, Bubba Baxa will become the Hurricanes’ starting kicker next season, filling the void left with by the graduation of Michael Badgley. I don’t expect the kicker to possess the same amount of swagger as his predecessor—I mean, how does one grow such a glorious mane as that?—yet Baxa will replace Miami’s best kicker, statistically, in program history. Badgley leaves UM with a record for most made field goals with 76. Badgley’s 397 career points places him fifth in career points in the ACC.
Baxa has been advertised as a big leg kicker, able to split the uprights from 60-yards out. Miami’s new leg hails from Pasadena, Texas, where he grew up as two-sport athletes, a trait that has become more coveted as you progress from FBS ball to the NFL. State of the U’s Cam Underwood wrote an in-depth profile in regards to Miami’s soon-to-be kicker. Having a booming leg is great—but the most anyone with interest in the program could ask for is consistency. Make the kicks that you’re called in to make. This is an oversimplification of kicking duties, ignoring factors such as wind, field condition, ball placement, arc, trajectory and various other nuances that are important to the art of place kicking.
Biggest Questions Entering Spring
Aside from the improvement of Feagles and the unknown of how Baxa will acclimate to college competition, there are few questions remaining in regards to special teams. That said, Miami will need someone to replace former punt returner Braxton Berrios who is off to the NFL. With talents such as DeeJay Dallas, Mike Harley, Jeff Thomas, Mark Pope, and Trajan Bandy, there will be plenty of candidates to step in as the new punt returner, with a chance to also be put on kick return duties as well.
If you’ve read this far into the article, you’re either one of the rare fans who are bananas for college kicking, or truly concerned with rounding out the team into a championship unit. Special teams coordinator Todd Hartley has done an excellent job with the unit in the two seasons that he’s been with the team. This could prove to be his biggest challenge in instilling confidence in his second year punter and helping his freshman kicker adjust to the intense scrutiny that comes along with kicking for the University of Miami.
We’ll find out this spring how much each player has developed.
Just remember, specialist are people, too.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!