In what could only be described as generally average play, the Miami Hurricanes will look to find explosiveness and reliability on special teams in the 2018 season. Other than Braxton Berrios returning punts to the tune of a 15.9 yards per return average, the Canes did not pass the eye test in the kick return, punt, or kicking game.
Another player we’ll miss is Michael Badgley, Miami’s all-time leading scorer. The veteran kicker converted 73.9 of his kicks as a senior. Badgley was steady, yet unspectacular.
Kicker - Bubba Baxa
I profiled Baxa several weeks ago. Baxa is a nationally recognized recruit out of high school. He might be the best kicker prospect Miami has reeled in since Matt Bosher.
Miami Hurricanes Player Profile: Kicker Bubba Baxa. Elite K prospect brings booming leg to field, looks to replace #Canes all-time leading scorer in 2018 and beyond. #TheU https://t.co/fL3emCuze7 pic.twitter.com/gT9wzSkVme— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) July 3, 2018
The expectations for Baxa should be tamed. He will be entering his true freshman season. The last time Miami started a true freshman as a kicker came last season at the punter position. Zach Feagles gained valuable experience, but did not perform consistently.
The expectations for Baxa should include the following: no kickoffs out of bounds, make every field goal under 35 yards, nail every extra point. In time, he’ll develop ice in his veins.
Unless Baxa is the second coming of former Florida State kicker and three time All-American Roberto Aguayo, there will be a steep learning curve for him in 2018.
Punter - Zach Feagles
I also profiled Zach Feagles. I wrote that he has a lot to live up to as the U’s official punter. Not just his family lineage - his dad, Jeff Feagles, played for the U and was an NFL kicking legend. Several amazing punters currently kick for NFL teams. Feagles needs to show improvement going into his sophomore year to live up to the hype. Read my story here.
In 2016, Canes punter Justin Vogel averaged 43.8 yards per kick. A number close to 44 yards per pick is a reasonable expectation for a decent punter. Pat O’Donnell way back in 2013 averaged 47.1 yards per kick. Feagles kicks, albeit as a true freshman, averaged just 38.6 yards per kick.
You’d have to go way, way back to 2005 when Brian Monroe averaged less than 40 yards per punt. Feagles needs to show improvement for the Canes special teams to exceed their 2018 expectations.
At this stage, Jeff Thomas might be returning both kick and punt returns heading into the new season. Another option is running back sensation Deejay Dallas. Last year, as a true freshman, Thomas averaged 21.6 yards per kickoff return. As a comparison, Tony Pollard for Memphis averaged 40 yards a return.
What we can hope for in terms of kickoffs is a better yards per return from Thomas or Dallas. That would equate to more explosive plays and better field position.
In terms of replacing Berrios, we want to see Dallas or Thomas average greater than 10 yards per return. If either one can return punts consistently, without fumbling the ball or calling for a fair catch inside the ten yard line, we might be set at kick and punt returner.
Last year’s special teams effort left a lot on the table. Badgley played consistently for the most part. Berrios was extremely reliable. Feagles played like a freshman. And we didn’t have very many exciting plays from the kick returners. The beauty of college football is that the returnees on special teams had an entire off season to improve. There’s no better recipe for success than experience.