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LSU Spring Football Five Things: Special Teams

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Taking a look at the Tiger kicking game this spring.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Roster/Depth Chart

Specialists

38 Jamie Keehn (Sr.), P

6-4, 220

Averaged 44.9 yards on 71 punts, with a net of 41.3, 27 punts downed inside the 20 and three touchbacks.

42 Colby Delahoussaye (Jr.), K

5-10, 176

Made 11-15 field goals and 34-36 extra points. Long field goal of 50 yards.

14 Trent Domingue (Jr.), K

6-1, 170

Made 2-4 field goals and 6-6 extra points. Long field goal of 31 yards. Averaged 62.2 yards on 51 kickoffs with 28 touchbacks.

50 Reid Ferguson (Sr.), SNP

6-2, 236

Started all 13 games as deep snapper.

36 Cameron Gamble (Soph.), K

5-11, 190

Averaged 61.4 yards on 17 kickoffs with 7 touchbacks.

Return Men

16 Tre'davious White (Jr.), punt returner

5-11, 191

Averaged 10.9 yards on 25 punt returns with one touchdown and a long return of 67 yards.

7 Leonard Fournette (Soph.), kick returner

6-1, 230

Averaged 26 yards on 24 returns, with one touchdown and a long return of 100 yards.

What's good?

We talk about LSU fans being spoiled by defensive back and defensive line play a lot, and with good reason. But special teams has a case for being talked about in that air under Les Miles, especially in recent years. Amazing punters and kickers, ace coverage units and explosive, game-changing returners have been the norm.

How do we know we're spoiled? This is considered a disappointing season -- some even used the word "horrible" to describe it:

  • LSU led the in kickoff return average at 26.7 yards per attempt;
  • Finished with one of the ten best net punting averages in the entire country;
  • Ranked 39th in the nation in opponents' average kickoff return at 19.6 yards per -- a four-yard improvement over 2013; and
  • Ranked second in the conference and 29th in the country in touchback percentage on kickoffs - 50.7 percent.

All of the major players return: senior punter Jamie Keehn, three kickers with game experience and both the punt and kick returners. As well as a deep-snapper that has been fairly automatic. That's experience that can be incredibly valuable in tight-game situations. There are also a gaggle of additional athletes that could share in return duties if called upon, like D.J. Chark, Trey Quinn, Travin Dural or Jamal Adams.

What's bad?

All that said, the criticism of the 2014 unit was certainly not off base. There were a number of peaks and valleys. Punt coverage, always a hallmark of LSU teams in recent years, was an excellent example.

On the season, LSU allowed an average of 9.14 yards per return, second-to-last in the SEC and at least an eight-year low. And yet, the Tiger punt team held teams under a three yard average in eight out of 12 games. But the outliers -- a 17.5 yard average allowed on two punts versus Mississippi State and a 57.5 yard day allowed to Andre Debose at Florida -- completely shattered the curve.

And that isn't to discount those lapses -- special teams certainly contributed to the loss to State (so weird writing that) and was extremely costly against Florida. Mistakes at inopportune times were a consistent theme, with Keehn shanking more than a handful of punts from the beginning through the end of the season, and Trent Domingue, of course, famously put a kickoff out of bounds in the final minute of the Alabama game.

And then there was placekicker Colby Delahoussaye, who followed up a tremendous 2013 with a season that got worse by the month and culminated with him losing his job. The crazy thing was that it was mostly gimme kicks that were the issue. Delahoussaye was 3-6 from 20-29 yards, with two very notable in the Ole Miss game. Look, college kickers are just that, and anything beyond 30, you know you're taking some risk. Delahoussaye was 8-9 from beyond 30, with just one miss beyond 40 yards. Those are numbers you can typically live with, especially with a kicker that's not known for a having a huge distance leg and doesn't even kick off.

As for returns, the averages throw off the fact that Tre'davious White was somewhat shaky, mostly on his decision-making. He was effective when given good kicks to return, but as the skill of punters around the league increase, those become fewer and farther in between. Just having somebody you can trust to call for a fair catch at the right moment or let a ball go when it's too big of a risk is a value unto itself.

On kick returns, Fournette was probably more effective than most realize. Yeah, his big return against Notre Dame padded the average, but he topped the 26-yard mark as an average in three other games as well. Still, it was hard not to think that he would have been better served with more touches on offense versus special teams.

What's the goal this spring?

Honestly, special teams rarely gets a ton of work in the spring. That's especially the case for LSU this year, given the new defensive staff and the young offense greatly in need of polishing. The important things will be pushing for consistency on the kickers in terms of practice work. There's no real way to develop "clutchness" in a kicker. They just have to work on keeping a consistent form and steady mechanics. And most of that work comes in the summer when LSU brings in Chris Sailer.

For the return units, it's important to identify as many different options as possible. Experiment and give different players opportunities. White will be facing competition, and Fournette could likely just be passing his role off as the offense begins to center more on him.

What am I watching for?

There just isn't going to be a lot to see here, even in the spring game. Kickoffs aren't contact plays, and there's just no way to know what to tell off the kicking. I can remember people like Drew Alleman looking incredibly shaky in the spring before big seasons. Delahoussaye looked that way before 2013.

On returns, it's just another opportunity to see some more athletes in action, more so than what they do. Guys like Chark and Adams would be very intriguing on kickoff returns, and they'll face more competition from people like Donte Jackson and Lanard Fournette in the fall.