2016 Oklahoma State Football Thoughts and Preview
2015 Review:10-3 Record
FG%: 76.2 (T-57th)
Net Punt Avg: 38.1 (54th)
KR Avg: 20.7 (76th)
PR Avg: 6.7 (87th)
Key Returners: Jalen McCleskey
Key Losses:Brandon Sheperd (KR)
Part III of our summer season preview takes a look at the Special Teams in 2016. Part I and II focused on the offense and defense, respectively. There will not be too many new faces on the special teams as the primary punt returner, kick returner, punter and kicker all return. Let take a look at the 2016 Special Teams.
Oklahoma State’s Special teams have been wildly inconsistent the past several seasons. The 2016 season might see one of the more complete Special Teams Group we have seen in Stillwater in a long time. This encompasses the kick and punt returners, punters, kickers and coverage units. Nobody notices or speaks about special teams units unless they are absolutely awful or exceptionally good. Oklahoma State has the opportunity to be on the exceptionally good end of the spectrum this year. Here is why:
Let us begin with the kicker and punter for Oklahoma State. OSU has seemingly found a new punter for the future, but their 3 year starter kicker will be entering his 4th and final season. Both have shown flashes of being very good for the position, yet each has had some limitations keeping them from become All-American caliber players. With that said, if either one improves upon these deficiencies then they will catapult to the top of the conference in their respective positions.
· Accurate Punting- Zach Sinor was arguably one of the biggest surprises in 2015. The redshirt freshman was unbelievable in placing the ball in the redzone on punts having 31 of them. This is one of the most important statistics for a punter as it can play a meaningful role in switching the field and leaving the opponents with poor field position. OSU fans were not accustomed to this accuracy the previous few seasons. Zach does not have the strongest leg in college (40yds/punt), but what he lacks in distance is easily made up by his accuracy in the redzone.
· Big Kick Ben- Ben Grogan has had many ups and downs during his tenure as the starting kicker for OSU. It is wild to think he is a senior this year, but this should be the best version we have seen of Grogan in four years. Ben knocked in 80% of his attempts last year which is above average in college football, but he has a knack for hitting important kicks which is very valuable when it comes to kickers. However, Ben missed three extra points last year which is unacceptable and he needs to have 100% accuracy here.
On the flip side, we have seen pedestrian numbers from our punt and kick returners since Justin Gilbert left for the NFL. This is the one are in need of the most improvement heading into 2016. While it is easy to be optimistic a month before the first kick-off, here is why we will see an improved return game in 2016.
· Not Freshman Anymore- Both Jeff Carr (primary kick returner) and Jalen McCleskey (primary punt returner) were true freshman last year. It was easy to see that it took several games for them to gain a little confidence in their possession of the ball, initially. Add to this, the fact that both were very small in stature and were in need of a full year of strength of conditioning before being thrown out onto the field. With one whole year of experience behind them, added strength and increased acclimation to the speed of the game these two are poised for a significant improvement this fall.
· Speed- Jalen and Jeff are both considered two of the fastest players on the team. While they were not able to show off this speed last year due to the fact that their mental processing was too slow to allow it, they should be able to starting exhibiting it this year. We know how much damage a returner can do when he has great speed like Justin Gilbert. Both of these sophomores have the ability and we should see it on display this year.
· Barry Sanders- Barry will be a wildcard entering the new season. There’s a chance he will contribute significantly for the offense and special teams, but there’s also a chance he won’t. It appears that Barry J could help OSU on special teams in the return game opposite of Carr or even in place of Carr. I do not foresee him taking McCleskey’s PR job as Jalen has All-Big 12 potential and speed. If nothing else, he should add equal replacement value if either Carr or McCleskey were to go down with an injury.
The other part of special teams not talked about is the coverage units. Oklahoma State gave up only 1 Special Teams touchdown and that was Jakeem Grant from Texas Tech, whom may have been the fastest player in college football last year. The longest punt return was 23 yards which came from Texas and TCU. We have seen steady improvement from the coverage units the last two seasons as we have implemented some talented youth there. I do not see the unit giving up more than one total TD this season, if any at all.