Kudos to Bart and Jake for their previews of our offense and defense for this year, but now I will write the preview for what is arguably the most important sector of all to Jim Grobe and Wake Forest: special teams.
There are many questions surrounding special teams, including concerns that Grobe has had about the kicking game leading into the season. Let's jump right in and take a look at what we can look forward to!
Sophomore Jimmy Newman retains field goal and extra point duties after having a fairly impressive freshman campaign. Newman went 11-17 (64.7 %), with a long of 44 yards (3-4 from 40-49), on field goal attempts, and made all 34 of his PAT's attempted.
Newman worked hard this offseason and worked with Morten Andersen on a 3 day seminar of sorts. During this one-on-on tutelage, Newman kicked with Andersen in the morning and then spent the afternoon working on his mental game. This has gotten his mental game on a different level from last year and will inevitably improve his kicking in the clutch, as well as expand his range.
The way that Wake Forest has relied on defense and special teams in the years past, the kicking game is very important to have in our favor. Newman is following one of the best kickers in Wake Forest history in Sam Swank, but fans should not lose sight of how well he did last year, and that is only going to improve.
Jim Grobe has voiced his displeasure in the inconsistencies of the punting game in the past couple of weeks. Junior Shane Popham will once again be the starting punter for the Deacs. On 54 punts last year, Popham averaged 38.9 ypp with a long of 57 and 18 inside the 20 yard line.
This average needs to climb into the 40's this year if the punting game is not going to be a problem all year in my opinion. Grobe will likely revert back into a 2006-like game strategy where Wake Forest relies heavily on the defense and plays the field position game rather than scoring in bunches. This is where the punting game must be strong.
If Popham isn't providing the type of punts that will fulfill the offense that Grobe wishes, R-Freshman Alex Wulfeck will likely be called upon. After an impressive Spring that put pressure on Popham, Wulfeck needs to improve his consistency but I would not be surprised to see a quick trigger if there is a problem.
Kick and Punt Return
Now to one of the more exciting topics in this upcoming year: the return game. As Wake Forest continues to recruit on a higher level, better athletes that are faster will continue to come to Winston-Salem. This is the case this year as we welcome R-Fr Michael Campanaro and R-Fr Josh Harris to the team.
In the "Fastest Deac" race held a couple of weeks ago Harris and Campanaro went head to head not once, but twice to decide who the fastest was. The first time they were in a dead tie in the 40 yard dash. The second time, Harris edged out Campanaro by .03. What is the most impressive thing about this? The average of the stop watches on the 40 yard dashes came in at 4.25 and 4.28, which is absolutely BLAZING speed, especially at LOWF.
These two guys are going to be extremely enjoyable to watch all year. Campanaro is slotted to return punts according to the depth chart, but I would not be shocked to see both of these guys back there at some point this year. On kickoffs, both will be back there and I'll go ahead and predict at least 3 kickoff returns for touchdowns this year, including at least one tomorrow night (the only reason one may not occur is the lack of chances they will have in the kicking return realm).
This is truly a bright spot for us and should provide a high amount of entertainment for Wake Forest fans.
Altogether, our special teams unit is actually pretty solid. It is certainly better than it has been the past couple of years. Like the offense and defense, all the guys will return next year too, so it will only get better. It should be a strength for us this year, with the punting game being the biggest question mark.
I think the return game will put our offense in fantastic positioning all year and that should help our offense if it falls stagnant at all.