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Miami Hurricanes 2021 Position Preview: Specialists

Miami has a much hyped freshman kicker and an All-American punter, but what about the return game?

Virginia v Miami Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The Miami Hurricanes had a dynamic duo at the two main specialist positions in 2020 in Lou Hedley and Jose Borregales. In 2020, Borregales won the Lou Groza Award for the country’s top placekicker while Hedley was a Ray Guy Award finalist for the country’s best punter.

The unsung hero of the kicking game is always the long snapper and Clay James did a forgettable job a year ago. Being forgettable as a long snapper is a good thing, that means everything went as planned on kicks and punts.

It was the coverage and return games that left a lot to be desired last season. Miami was abysmal in return yards and coverage yards allowed in 2020.

Key loss

Miami v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Jose Borregales

Awards: Lou Groza Award Winner, All-American First Team, All-ACC First Team.

Borregales is the only loss to the specialists heading into 2021. As a senior he finished a perfect 37-of-37 on extra points, while also making 20-of-22 field goals. Borregales also had 51 touchbacks on 72 kickoffs which helped alleviate the coverage issues for Miami. The Hurricanes allowed 23.59 yards per kick return which was good for 101st in the FBS.

Starters in 2021

Lou Hedley

Bethune-Cookman v Miami Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Awards: 2020 Ray Guy Award finalist, 2020 All-ACC, Second Team.

Hedley returns for another season as the ‘Canes punter in ‘21. The six-foot-four Aussie transplant did fantastic work saving Miami’s butt on some protection breakdowns while averaging 47.2 yards per punt with 30% dropped inside the 20. In 2019, Hedley averaged 43.9 yards per punt and improvement being shown is always a good thing.

Andres Borregales

The younger Borregales comes to Miami as a three-star placekicker per 247 Sports. As a high school senior Borregales was ranked the 2nd best kicker in the country per 247, and 7th per Kohl’s. As a high school senior Borregales won the state championship with Champagnat Catholic after winning it the year before with Chaminade out of Ft. Lauderdale.

Borregales only handled kickoff duty in 2020, but made 12-of-15 field goals in 2019 as a junior. He’ll come to Miami with a lot of expectations and giant shoes to fill from Jose.

Clay James

Clay James has logged 24 starts at long snapper for the ‘Canes and I can’t recall a bad snap off the top of my head. Being forgettable as a long snapper is a key trait to have and James has done that in Coral Gables. Borregales and Hedley will benefit from an experienced LS in 2021.

Biggest question marks

The biggest question mark heading into the 2021 season is whether or not Special Teams Coordinator Jonathan Patke is the right man for the job. The kick return coverage team was abysmal outside of Borregales ability to bomb touchbacks. The punt return defense was middle of the pack in ‘20, allowing 7.38 yards per return which was good for 68th in the FBS.

In ‘21, Patke doesn’t have a ready made placekicker like he did with Jose Borregales. He’ll have to coach up Andres who hasn’t kicked a field goal or PAT live in a game since 2019. Can the younger Borregales live up to the hype?

Tennessee vs Georgia Photo by /Collegiate Images/Getty Images

The other big question is who will return kicks and punts for Miami in ‘21? The Hurricanes averaged a pathetic 2.20 yards per punt return (I had to read it twice to be sure) which was good for 120th in the FBS lest season. Mark Pope, Gurvan Hall, and Xavier Restrepo were lucky to catch the punt let alone get return yards afterwards.

On kick return duty the ‘Canes used Mike Harley (21.3ypr), Jaylan Knighton (19.7ypr) and Mark Pope (22.2ypr). Miami averaged 20.55 yards per return which was good for 60th in the FBS.

Tyrique Stevenson should be the punt returner that can alleviate the ‘Canes woes in 2021. Stevenson returned two punts as a sophomore at UGA in 2020, and averaged an eye popping 18.5 yards per return. It’s a small sample size but better than anything Miami has thrown on the field in years.

The duo of Stevenson and Harley could be dangerous on kickoffs. I would expect Restrepo to continue getting work at both kick and punt returns, and Charleston Rambo will be thrown in to the mix for both as well.