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2015 LSU Football Optimistic/Pessimistic/Realistic: Special Teams

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A step back last year, albeit a small one. What’s in store for LSU’s kicking game in 2015?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

38 Jamie Keehn (Sr.), P

6-5, 231

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

5-9, 182

Made 11-15 field goals and 34-16 extra points. Long field goal of 50 yards.

14 Trent Domingue (Jr.) P/K

6-2, 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, 244

Started all 13 games as deep snapper.

36 Cameron Gamble (Soph.), K

5-10, 197

Averaged 61.4 yards on 17 kickoffs with 7 touchbacks.

31 Josh Growden (Fr.) P

6-2, 197

Two-star recruit.

We talk about LSU fans being spoiled a lot around here, and for good reason. Some simply refuse to enjoy a golden era of LSU football, and would rather ignore what's in front of them for what isn't there.

But as to the actual spoilage, it is especially true at a number of positions, particularly the defensive backfield, defensive line or at wide receiver. It may not be true anywhere more so than in special teams. In 2014, LSU finished with its lowest Fremeau Efficiency Index rating since 2007.

It finished 13th. In the entire country. So when you think about special teams problems, just keep that in mind.

Still, a step back is a step back. LSU had some inconsistencies in the special teams that manifested themselves at really inopportune moments in 2014. There's no real way to control the timing, but this unit has got to be more consistent in general.

The player most emblematic of it all would have to be senior punter Jamie Keehn. He finished second in the country in punting average last year, and in the top 10 in the country in net punting. But there were definite valleys to go with those peaks. Notable shanks versus Wisconsin and Ole Miss, plus a pair of low line drives that set big returns against Florida. Keehn arrived to LSU new to the game from Australia, so it's not all that crazy that he still has some issues. But he's got the size and the athletic ability to keep improving. Let's see if that happens.

Kicker is much more of a mixed bag. Colby Delahoussaye came back to Earth off of a really strong 2015. College kickers being just that, it's no huge surprise. The problems came when he started shanking chip shots, such as his two misses inside the 20 against Ole Miss. Unless they're special, most kickers are going to get dicey once you get beyond 35 or 40 yards. But inside of 30? You have to hit those, and if Delahoussaye struggles again in '15, he'll be replaced again.

Junior Trent Domingue was solid enough on kickoffs last year, aside from the noteworthy screw-up against Alabama. On field goals, he had his moments but wasn't much of an upgrade on Delahoussaye. Given the latter's overall track record, he'll get the first shot on place kicks.

Sophomore Cameron Gamble has flashed a big leg at times on kickoffs, but like the rest of this unit, he's incredibly inconsistent. It would probably be in LSU's best interest if he could take the reins on kickoffs at least.

Joining the group are true freshman Josh Growden, another Aussie, and walk-on Jack Gonsoulin. Although it's doubtful either plays much of a role this season.

Return Men

18 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.

Another position where we're kind of waiting to replace two guys that did a pretty good job of returning kicks and punts last season. Fournette ranked in the top 10 in the country on kicks, but people do tend to get nervous at the thought of the franchise running back taking extra punishment.

It's not without precedent. Running backs like Trent Richardson, Todd Gurley, Darren McFadden, etc...all returned kicks for their teams. Still, it's a concern I understand. But the coaching staff is not about to replace him without somebody comparable on hand.

Enter true freshmen Derrius Guice, Donte Jackson and Tyron Johnson, who have all worked at kick returner this fall, along with D.J. Chark and Trey Quinn. Jackson's speed is a very intriguing option, and Guice's size and elusiveness is comparable to Fournette.

On punts, White did a strong job with his 10-yard average, but his hands and decision-making were iffy at times. Something that can improve with time, but it will be curious to see if LSU tries another option in '15. Quinn in particular, could fit the job well. It might be prudent to maybe use him in a safe mode, and reserve White for situations where he's more likely to get a more returnable punt.

As for the coverage units, look or this year's freshman class, as well as last year's, to continue t stock them with a lot of speed. Players like Jackson, Johnson, Xavier Lewis, Kevin Toliver, Duke Riley, Donnie Alexander and John Battle should all play important roles.

Optimistic

Keehn settles in with a more consistent season. Delahoussaye gets over his case of the shanks and becomes a kicker LSU can trust in most situations. Coverage teams resume kicking ass and the returners feature big plays from the likes of Guice, Jackson, Quinn and White.

Pessimistic

Kickers remain inconsistent, and Keehn saves his mistakes for the biggest moments. The good news here is that even in the bad scenarios, this unit is still pretty good.

Realistic

Really, the big question will be the kickers. I'm pretty comfortable with Keehn evening out, and there's too much talent for the return/coverage units to be anything short of solid, if not spectacular. If the field goals become something more consistent inside of 35 yards, those red zone issues Poseur talked about will improve as well.