Heading into the 2019 season, a big question for LSU was how do they replicate 2018’s successful special teams outing, particularly Cole Tracy’s kicking excellence. While the unit did take a slight step back, it was still 12th overall in S&P+, a far cry from 2017’s disastrous season.
There’s not as many holes to fill in 2020, LSU brings back its place kicker, kickoff specialist, punter and punt returner. And while the Ferguson brothers longsnapping era has come to a close, the Tigers do have another Buford High School product ready to carry on.
2020 LSU Specialists
|Kickoff Specialist||32. Avery Atkins (Jr.)||5’11”/214|
|Place Kicker||36 Cade York (Soph.)||6’1”/198|
|43. Preston Stafford (Soph.)||5’10”/174|
|Punter||(38.) Zach Von Rosenberg (Sr.)||6’5”/245|
|Long Snapper||47. Max Peterson (Fr.)||5’11”/213|
|48. Quentin Skinner (Fr.)||6’0"/243|
|Kick Returner||13. Jontre Kirklin (Sr.)||6’0”/184|
|33. Trey Palmer (Soph.)||6’0/180|
|Punt Returner||24. Derek Stingley Jr. (Soph.)||6’1”/195|
Cade York is back to resume place kicking duties after a successful freshman season. York scored 146 points, the most for an SEC kicker in a single season, and connected on 21 of 27 field goals. York showed a pretty strong leg, connecting on four of five attempts that were beyond 50 yards and was a perfect 12-12 between 20 and 40 yards. It was the 40-49 yard range where York was dicey, only making five of 10 attempts. But two of those makes came when it mattered most, against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. York hit from 40 and 45 giving LSU six points in a five-point win.
Also returning is kickoff specialist Avery Atkins. Atkins is at LSU to do one thing and that’s kick the ball through the end zone and he does that better than anyone. Of his 131 kickoffs, 110 resulted in touchbacks.
Zach Von Rosenberg is back for his final season as the LSU punter. Von Rosenberg had a solid 2019, averaging 42 yards a kick and saw 21 of his 47 punts be downed inside the 20. Opponents only returned nine punts last year and averaged 13 yards per return. That number’s inflated by Jaylen Waddle’s 77-yard touchdown in the Alabama game, if you take that number out opponents averaged five yards per return. LSU should be in great shape at punting for 2020 and beyond with West Monroe’s Peyton Todd, 247’s top-rated punter, committed to the 2021 recruiting class.
The biggest question for the 2020 special teams unit is what happens at long snapper now that Blake Ferguson is gone? LSU’s been blessed with eight straight years of excellent long snapping from Blake and his older brother Reid, both of whom are snapping in the NFL. There’s not a third Ferguson brother, but LSU dipped into the Buford High pipeline again and Quentin Skinner is poised to be the man at long snapper for the next four seasons. If it doesn’t look like anything’s different this year compared to the past eight, Skinner will be excelling at his job.
LSU is also in the market for a new kick returner. Based off last year’s statistics, expect Jontre Kirklin or Trey Palmer to return kicks or maybe freshman wide receiver Kayshoun Boutte gets a crack at it. But the way the kickoff is handled nowadays, it probably doesn’t matter who LSU has back deep chances are it’ll end in a touchback.
As for returning punts, Derek Stingley Jr. should resume those duties. Stingley had a good, maybe not great, freshman year returning punts and averaged close to 10 yards a return. He returned a punt 32 yards in the opener against Georgia Southern, but also made one of his few mistakes when he muffed a punt in the Auburn game—though the slick conditions probably aided in that. If it’s not Stingley, maybe Palmer takes on the job full time, after all he showed he can be a dynamic return man when he brought a punt back 55 yards for a touchdown against Northwestern State.