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LSU Spring Football 2019: Special Teams

Tigers have a pretty big hole to fill but there’s a lot to like otherwise.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - LSU v Central Florida Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

LSU’s special teams units had a major turnaround last season, finishing in the top-10 overall in S&P+. And while a lot of that credit has to go to Cole Tracy, obviously, for having the best overall kicking season in LSU history, he was just one component.

LSU Special Teams in 2018

FG value (per kick) 0.45 13
Punt efficiency 76.10% 7
Kickoff efficiency 96.20% 1
Punt return efficiency 17.70% 128
Kick return efficiency 50.00% 44
Stats via Bill Connelly

Overall, LSU dominated kicking the ball and covering kicks, and used that to create field position advantages regularly, something that was incredibly valuable with an inconsistent offense.

But ultimately, it was a unit that was all, to mix metaphors, pitching and defense. There was absolutely no punch in the return game. Jonathan Giles never produced as a punt returner, and changed at least one game with a muff. But replacements like Jontre Kirklin and Justin Jefferson were never able to do much better. With both long-range punter Zach Von Rosenberg and directional kicker Josh Growden back, plus kickoff specialist Avery Atkins, finding that returner will be a big point of emphasis here.

Oh, plus finding that kicker.

LSU Special Teams: Spring 2019

Place-Kicker Ht/Wt
Place-Kicker Ht/Wt
39 Jack Gonsoulin (Jr.) 5-9, 165
34 Connor Culp (Jr.) 6-0, 203
Punter Ht/Wt
38 Josh Growden (Sr.) 6-2, 199
46 Zach Von Rosenberg (Jr.) 6-5, 245
Kick-Offs Ht/Wt
32 Avery Atkins (So.) 6-1, 210
Kick Returner Ht/Wt
22 Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Jr.) 5-9, 212
Punt Returner
Jonathan Giles 6-1, 186
Justin Jefferson 6-2, 185
Jontre Kirklin 6-0, 182
Long Snapper Ht/Wt
50 Blake Ferguson (Sr.) 6-4, 235
Returning starters in bold.

What’s Good?

The kickers that are on hand all did great work last year under special teams Greg McMahon. Von Rosenberg has the big leg to flip the field, while Growden has found a niche doing directional kicking when the offense is across the 50.

Atkins, a McMahon find as a walk-on, was a revelation on kickoffs, putting the ball out of the endzone on roughly 90 percent of his kickoffs.

What’s Bad?

Well, the reason LSU went out and recruited Cole Tracy as a graduate transfer was the struggles of juniors-to-be Connor Culp and Jack Gonsoulin. They both struggled mightily with the job in 2017. While everyone loves a good redemption story, I would expect competition here to continue on into fall camp, once true freshman Cade York is on hand.

One would think Atkins’ huge leg could also get him into the mix here, although kicking off and place-kicking are very different things.

Likewise, there are no obvious new options at returner, either. The thought of using Giles, Kirklin or Jefferson at the spot doesn’t inspire much confidence, and none of the other players on hand were able to take the job last year either.

What’s the goal for this unit in spring?

Adding an offensive element to this unit with returns has to be paramount over the offseason, and that begins now. Luckily, there is a new option around in five-star cornerback prospect Derek Stingley, whom has already been mentioned by Ed Orgeron as a potential option for punts.

Kickoffs may stay with Clyde Edwards-Helaire, if only because he showed some good judgment on fielding them last year, and with touchbacks/fair catches coming out to the 25, the value of actual returns, and their frequency, is greatly reduced.

In the case of Culp and Gonsoulin, both players are likely competing to keep a spot on the roster for next season. And I imagine the bad taste of their game failures will be hard to wash out in just practice.