Five Things, LSU Spring Football: Special Teams

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Specialists

38 Jamie Keehn (So.), P

6-4, 222

12 punts for 524 yards (43.7 avg), long of 58, 1 touchback, 3 inside the 20 and 6 of more than 50 yards.

30 James Hairston (Jr.), K

6-1, 220

79 kickoffs for 4,842 yards (61.3 avg), with 27 touchbacks.

30 Colby Delahoussaye (RS-Fr.), K

5-10, 174

Redshirted.

30 Trent Domingue (RS-Fr.) P/K

6-0, 177

Redshirted.

50 Reid Ferguson (So.) SNP

6-2, 235

Started all 13 games as deep snapper.

3 Odell Beckham, Jr. (Jr.) PR

6-0, 187

35 punt returns for 320 yards (9.1 avg) and 2 TDs.

1. Special teams is something of an intriguing area this spring, because while LSU does have to replace a star punter in Brad Wing and a pretty good kicker in Drew Alleman, I'm not really all that worried. Crocodile Punter 2.0 Jamie Keehn filled in well when asked -- his first punt in an actual American football game was kind of a trial by fire, as the punt sailed over his head, forcing him to gather it and Aussie-rules-style it off for a pretty nice punt. He also filled in very well when Wing was suspended for the Peach Bowl. James Hairston has flashed a very nice leg on kickoffs for the last two years, and while he's still never kicked an actual field goal, he's clearly got a lot of talent and shouldn't be overwhelmed by the pressure of the moment. One of the more interesting dynamics of this team that has been reported, is that Hairston is, by some accounts, one of the more respected and vocal leaders in the locker room. That could be from his somewhat imposing build for a kicker, or who knows, maybe the former high-school soccer star has impressed teammates with his work-ethic or athleticism on the field.

2. Reid Ferguson sailed his first punt, but spent the next 13 games doing exactly what every good deep snapper should do: completely disappearing and never standing out in any way. Snappers only make the news when they screw up, and Ferguson didn't despite being fresh out of high school. Odell Beckham Jr. was explosive on returns but struggled a bit with his judgment, and would often make some very shaky decisions trying to press to make a play. That may have been his biggest problem overall as a player last season, but we'll get to that when we talk receivers. His speed is an asset for obvious reasons.

3. I tend to assume that Hairston will step into the kicking responsibilities seamlessly, but I couldn't tell you a thing about redshirt freshmen Colby Delahoussaye and Trent Domingue. I guess we'll find out what they have come April 20. The kickoff returner spot seems up for grabs, with Beckham, Derrick Raymond and Travin Dural likely to compete with freshmen superspeedster Jeryl Brazil and Tre'Davious White when they arrive this summer.

4. In terms of gunners, LSU definitely missed having Tyrann Mathieu and Ron Brooks and their remarkable talents for finding punts in the air last season (one could argue Mathieu was missed more in this regard than on actual returns), but Corey Thompson, Jerquinick Sandolph, Debo Jones and the Immortal Seth Fruge all took their turns having big games. I would expect that to continue this season, along with some of the redshirt freshmen like Dwayne Thomas and Raymond getting involved, and of course, the new freshmen once they arrived.

5. A minor question from last season was the drop-off in special teams play. Frankly, that should be obvious, but when you compare it to what the Tigers did in 2011, a relative decline was almost assured. LSU's 2011 special teams unit was a boot to the neck of opponents. A game-changer that helped set up nearly everything the offense and defense did. The 2012 unit still did a solid job of keeping the offense and defense in good spots, but it wasn't quite so forceful. The loss of veteran gunners that were exceptionally gifted at their jobs was a factor. What's more, the guys asked to replace Brooks and Mathieu were freshmen like Micah Eugene and Jalen Mills that had plenty of their plate just with the defense. And of course, as we now know, Wing had his own personal issues. Even his struggles were somewhat relative -- his average punt actually traveled an extra half a yard. Plus even a punter with his gift for putting English (Aussie?) on the football still can't catch every bounce. I expect the Tigers' special teams to again be a strength in 2013, even if it can't quite match those levels of dominance.

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