Spring Position Battles: Kickoff Return

Laray Smith has been snakebitten at IU, but will he finally get a shot to show off his speed in 2015?

Laray Smith has been snakebitten at IU, but will he finally get a shot to show off his speed in 2015?

Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)

Welcome to the final installment of Spring Position Battles, we are looking at the often over looked battle at the kick and punt return positions. Middle of the pack teams like the Indiana Hoosiers need every advantage they can get and a lot of the time that comes via very good special teams. Some of IU’s most memorable wins have come because of a kickoff return for a score. Lance Bennett sparked the Hoosiers’ upset of Oregon on the road in 2004 with a long kickoff return touchdown and Marcus Thigpen initiated come backs in 2006 against Illinois and Ball State with big plays on special teams. Under head coach Kevin Wilson the Hoosiers have had their share of explosive special teamers with Shane Wynn and Tevin Coleman, but in 2014 it was an area that was lacking.

Outlook for 2015

Special teams are truly a team effort. While fans may only recognize the returner or the kicker it takes the effort of all 11 players to make something work right. The 2015 Hoosiers will have lost the services of two explosive players in Wynn and Coleman, but return their leading returner J-Shun Harris II who averaged 20.6 yards per kick return last year. IU also has several other players who can be more than serviceable in the return game. Laray Smith, who will be in his third year, has speed to burn is an option. Other options include Rashard Fant and Tommy Mister, but I doubt coaches would want to risk an injury to their top corner and a running back coming off of major surgery. Damon Graham was the only other returning Hoosier to handle kick offs last season and he averaged a respectable 21 yards on nine returns.

Reinforcements Coming in June

The Hoosiers may have several more options joining the team in June when the rest of the 2015 freshman class arrives on campus. While playing a youngster just on special teams may not be the best way to burn a year of eligibility, the Hoosiers and Wilson need to win now and that means if a freshman can jump in and be a difference maker then so be it. There are two names Hoosier fans should keep their eyes on for the fall: Isaac James and Devonte Williams. Both of them are of similar size and can be effective playmakers. Williams, nicknamed the Matrix, would be the perfect player to have back deep to return kicks. He has the speed and shiftiness to give the Hoosiers a leg up in starting field position. James, a local kid out of Indianapolis, could probably redshirt but would add similar play making abilities to a position that needs a boost.