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Spring Football Position Preview: Special Teams

How special will Miami’s third unit look this spring?

Virginia v Miami
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 18: Jeff Thomas #4 of the Miami Hurricanes returns a kick during a game against the Virginia Cavaliers at Hard Rock Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Louis Hedley is bringing the special, back to special teams. The biggest news, and the most important addition for the special teams unit this spring, is the Aussie punter. Last year, Miami’s special teams unit was as inconsistent as any. Second year legacy punter Zach Feagles failed to improve in 2018 after a very rough freshman season. Feagles’ punting was so bad that his starting position was challenged by redshirt freshman transfer Jack Spicer. This past year, Feagles’ averaged 38.9 yards on his 30 punts, while Spicer only averaged 37.7 yards on 34 punts.

With Feagles leaving Coral Gables to transfer elsewhere, the Canes clearly saw bringing in another punter as a pressing need. Enter Hedley. Hailing from City College of San Francisco, Hedley was a 3-star prospect and the best JUCO punter in the nation. The 25 year old looks more at home as a linebacker than as a punter, standing at 6’4” and 245 pounds. He’s sort of the Julian Gamble of Miami special teams.

And those tattoos. With a rocked-up frame and arms dripping in ink, Hedley is certain to get more TV time than any punter in the nation. He’s a perfect fit for the swagger-centric attitude Coach Manny Diaz is bringing to The New Miami. However, it’s not all tattoos and biceps. Hedley has three years of eligibility remaining and will certainly need them. He’s extremely raw as a football player and, while he possesses a big leg, still needs to hone his accuracy and consistency. It’s also worth mentioning that the Aussie has some wheels, so opposing coaches will need to keep their punt block teams honest; Hedley is a threat to convert 4th downs.

While Miami’s punting struggled in 2018, their kicking was largely the opposite. After only making 40% of his field goals as a high school senior, Bubba Baxa replaced the steady Michael Badgely and had a very solid freshman year. Baxa was nearly perfect converting the point after, 45-for-46, and was good enough for his field goals. It’s hard to complain about Baxa after he converted 9 of his 12 field goals this past season. Two of his misses came in the torrential Miami weather against FSU and Duke, while the third came against LSU in Jerry World. He was also great on kickoffs, hardly allowing returns and booming 41 touchbacks on 69 kickoffs.

Baxa can continue getting better though; he was 1-for-3 this past season on 40+ yard kicks. But if Miami can be confident in anything, it’s that the spotlight isn’t too bright for their young kicker.

Return wise, Jeff Thomas is back and, while he is an explosive punt returner, may see less attempts with a bigger role on offense. Deejay Dallas was also effective and with as deep as Miami’s backfield is, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Dallas continue fielding kicks. Both players scored touchdowns on punt returns last season.

Miami special teams will be fun to watch through the spring; all of their young players have a lot to improve on and, if we can be sure of anything, it’s that Louis Hedley will be a lot more interesting to watch than Zach Feagles.