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LSU Spring Football 2016 Five Things: Special Teams

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Speaking of new energy, this is a unit in need of a lot more than just a jump-start.

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Depth Chart

Specialists

Name

Height/Weight

2015 Season

14 Trent Domingue (Sr.) P/K

6-2, 170

Made 13-17 field goals, including 9 of 11 beyond 30 yards. Made 49-50 extra points and averaged 58.4 yards on 32 kick-offs, with 7 touchbacks and two kicks out of bounds. One 16-yard touchdown run on a fake.

42 Colby Delahoussaye (Sr.), K

5-9, 182

No game appearances in 2015.

36 Cameron Gamble (Jr.), K

5-10, 197

Averaged 57.4 yards on 43 kickoffs with 5 touchbacks and two kicks out of bounds.

50 Blake Ferguson (RS-Fr.) SNP

6-3, 221

Redshirted.

38 Josh Growden (RS-Fr.) P

6-2, 197

Redshirted.

Kick Returners

18 Tre'davious White (Sr.)

5-11, 191

Returned 20 punts for 229 yards (11.4 average) and 1 touchdown with two lost fumbles.

5 Derrius Guice (Soph.)

5-11, 222

Returned 20 kickoffs for 472 yards (23.6 average).

1 Donte Jackson (Soph.)

5-11, 167

Returned 4 punts for 6 yards and 8 kickoffs for 165 yards.

What's Good?

LSU returns a kicker whose numbers seem a lot better than I remember. Trent Domingue made a pretty respectable number of his kicks last season, and was pretty solid from long distance as well. Although it's pretty frustrating to see him struggle to grove the shorter kicks. I would note that freshman Connor Culp will have a real chance at taking this job in the fall, but he's not around at the moment.

Likewise, the top return men are back on both kickoffs and punts in Tre White and Derrius Guice, who came as close as anybody has in the last few decades of breaking the 30-years-plus drought of kickoff return touchdowns in Tiger Stadium.

Plus, freshmen like Michael Divinity, Devin White and Savion Smith should all help add some more athleticism and, hopefully, some better tackling to the coverage units.

What's Bad?

Um...well...LSU special teams?

Last year I talked about the unit taking a step back to a still fairly respectable level in terms of the advanced special teams metrics, as a way of pointing out that we, as fans have been pretty blessed in what we've seen from Tiger special teams over the years.

LSU's 2015 special teams unit finished 88th in the Fremau Efficiency Index unit rankings.

Dead last in the SEC in punt coverage. Ninth in kickoff return coverage, and ninth in both average punt and kickoff returns. Overall, LSU's average starting field position was at the 28.7 yard line, 98th in the country, while opponents started at their own 30 (69th nationally).

What's more, they usually broke down at the worst time, whether it's the fourth quarter punt return against Florida or the kick return that enabled Alabama to break a tie game in the closing minutes of the first half. It's definitely not exaggerating to say that this is a unit in need of a major renovation in 2016.

There was no coaching change, but Bradley Dale Peveto should have a better player pool to work with this season with the infusion of linebacker and safety talent from the 2016 recruiting class. The lack of linebacker depth clearly hurt this group last season with more offensive players being put in a position to have to run down and make tackles. That doesn't explain the entirety of the problems, but it was definitely a factor.

A new punter could possibly help as well, as Aussie No. 3 Josh Growden steps in for Aussie No. 2, Jamie Keehn, who simply could never find any consistency. Keehn's a talent, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if things maybe clicked for him as a professional. But LSU was his first taste of American football, and while he could be very impressive at times, he shanked punts far too regularly. The peaks and valleys just never seemed to even out, nor could his hang-time, which cost the Tigers punt return touchdowns against Florida in each of the last two seasons.

Growden is a total unknown, so I won't pretend to give any detailed breakdown of the kid. But he will continue to work with kicking consultant Chris Sailer through the next four months until camp starts in August. And I'm sure there will be walk-ons on hand to give him competition.

Punt returner is another position that could use some new blood. White is dangerous with the ball in his hand -- he's averaged more than 10 yards per return with a pair of touchdowns the last two seaosns. But his judgement in fielding punts in traffic, or in awkward positions, has been a consistent problem for two seasons now. It gave Florida a cheap touchdown in a game last season, and put the offense in awkward spots a number of other times. Donte Jackson seems like an easy choice to transition to the role, but players like Derrick Dillon, Tyron Johnson, Lanard Fournette or even Jamal Adams could all fit as well.

On kickoffs, Jackson and Derrius Guice provide a solid one-two punch, although both could benefit from learning to let their blocks develop a little better. When Leonard Fournette was returning kicks in 2014, he finally broke loose for a touchdown on a kick that he bobbled. It slowed him down and allowed things to develop, and he was able to find a seam. Jackson in particular seemed to catch the ball and just take off as soon as he could last season -- and he could see his role increase here as Guice's does on offense.

Switching Fergusons at long snapper is a question mark as well, although Blake was highly recruited, as was his older brother Reid.

What's the goal this spring?

Honestly, special teams is an area that won't get a lot of work this spring, at least as a full unit. The kickers will get more reps, and different players can experiment at the return positions, but there won't be a ton of live return action, in order to avoid injuries. Kicks and punts aren't really even live plays in the spring game, so there isn't much to judge other than the snap and timing hang-time and distance on punts.

Peveto is always a popular whipping boy with his fans, largely because most have never gotten over his time as a co-defensive coordinator. That isn't to say he did a good job by any stretch, but there's always more to a unit's failure than just DURRR HES A BAD COACH.

His biggest mistake was probably over-managing his lineup at times. Shuffling players in and out of lineups and multiple roles, trying to find the right combination instead of just coaching up the players on hand. There isn't a lot of wild scheming to kick coverage. It's pretty much been drawn up every way you can, it's just a matter of getting the right kick and everybody staying in their lanes while they haul it down the field to make the tackle. It's more about fundamentals and want-to, so unless a player is just dogging it, if a coach thinks he's right for the role the best move might be to just stay on him. It's a balance that has to be struck.

But it also goes back to the want-to. Special teams coverage/blocking units are about bringing an attitude to an inglorious position. Coaches can help -- Thomas McGaughey seemed to know how to make special teams seem cool. But he also had players like Tyrann Mathieu, Ron Brooks, Jarvis Landry and Debo Jones who were naturally hungry to make things happen regardless of who was coaching them. For LSU special teams to get back to the level we're used to, it's going to take work from both the coaches and the players.

What am I watching for?

Not all that much. There's just not that much to see really. If there are reports of constant shanking of punts, or Ferguson spraying snaps all over the field, well that would be bad. But otherwise, we'll just have to watch and see what happens come the fall.