Spring Preview- Indiana's Special Teams Units Have Holes to Plug

Logan Justus lines up for a field goal  Image: Sammy Jacobs Hoosier Huddle

Logan Justus lines up for a field goal Image: Sammy Jacobs Hoosier Huddle

Written by Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)

Hoosier Huddle’s final positional preview for spring practice will focus on the special teams unit. The Hoosiers return second-team All-Big Ten kicker Logan Justus and punter Haydon Whitehead, but will have to replace an All-American in long snapper Dan Godsil and honorable mention All-Big Ten punt returner J-Shun Harris. There were plenty of weaknesses the Hoosiers have to address on this unit as well as IU struggled on kickoff coverage and kickoff returns. IU will get long snapper Sean Wracher in the fall, a top recruit at that position. Other than punter though, it’s an open competition.

Kicker

Logan Justus, Redshirt Junior, 5’11”/180lbs

Justus had big shoes to fill in 2018 replacing Griffin Oakes and he did so admirably. Justus was IU’s primary field goal kicker last season and performed well enough to be named a Lou Groza Award Semi-Finialist. Justus connected 15-of-18 field goals (83.3%) and 32-of-33 extra points. While Justus had a tremendous year, he will need to keep battling to keep his position as Charles Campbell was a high-regarded recruit.

Charles Campbell, Redshirt Freshman, 5’9”/172lbs

It was a little surprising that Tom Allen elected to not use Campbell in the four games allowed before burning his red shirt, but for roster balance purposes redshirting Campbell was the right decision. Campbell was a 2018 U.S. Army All-American and a five-star (Kohl’s) prospect coming out of high school in Tennessee. This spring is a chance for him to challenge Justus for the starting position. He showed a strong leg during warmups, but still needs to increase his range. IU has been splitting kickoff and field goal duties as to keep legs fresh so maybe this turns into a two-kicker platoon for field goals. Allen and his staff gave Campbell a four-year scholarship for a reason and it’s tough to justify that if he spends two years on the bench.

Jared Smolar, Redshirt Junior, 5’11”, 209lbs

Smolar served as IU’s kickoff specialist last season. As we mentioned above, Allen has implemented a platoon to keep legs fresh. Smolar was strong early in the year, but leg strength faded in the second half and exposed a porous IU kick coverage unit. In order to keep his position, Smolar will need to become most consistent with his kicks and increase his leg strength to ensure touchbacks and limit return opportunities.

Nathanael Snyder, Redshirt Junior, 6’1”/190lbs

Snyder walked on to the Hoosier program in 2016. He was a Kohl’s All-American in 2015 at Center Grove (Ind.). He has not seen any game action in his first three seasons in Bloomington. With questions on kickoffs looming, can Snyder win his way to that duty? He’ll have the opportunity to do so this spring.

Jack Cardillo, Redshirt Sophomore, 6’1”/174lbs

A walk-on from Colorado Cardillo has yet to see the field at IU, but has excelled off of it as he took home Academic All-Big Ten honors in 2018. Reliable depth at the kicker position is important and the more legs Tom Allen can find the better. Cardillo did punt in high school and the backup punting job could be up for grabs.

Punter

Haydon Whitehead, Redshirt Senior, 6’2”/205lbs

Haydon Whitehead  Image: Sarah Miller Hoosier Huddle

Haydon Whitehead Image: Sarah Miller Hoosier Huddle

The Australian has been really good in his first two seasons playing American Football, however Whitehead needs to take his game to the next level if he wants to be one of the best punters in the conference. Over his first two seasons in Bloomington Whitehead has averaged 40.4 yards per punt while pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line 50 times and forcing a fair catch 52 times. Whitehead needs to improve his yard per kick average and he has the tendency to get predictable in his timing. He has had two punts blocked and both have been costly in close losses to Maryland (2017) and Minnesota (2018). If he can make these improvements, Whitehead will find himself in the running for the Ray Guy Award come November.

Kick Return

Reese Taylor, Sophomore,

Reese Taylor needs the football in his hands and one of the best ways to do that is to put him back on kick return. After Michael Penix was injured, the idea of Taylor returning kicks went out the window Taylor returned three kicks for 68 yards in 2018. With more depth at the quarterback position, Taylor can be run out for kickoffs. He is explosive and elusive and could be a game changer there.

Bryant Fitzgerald, Sophomore, 6’0”/214lbs

Fitzgerald was listed as the backup to Mike Majette at returner most of the season and had one opportunity to return a kick which went for 11 yards. He is a talented athlete, but should be a bigger factor on defense. While he could probably do the job well, Fitzgerald may be more important to the Hoosiers on defense than returning kicks.

Ahrod Lloyd, Redshirt Sophomore, 5’11”/193lbs

Lloyd is a walk on from Indianapolis and has caught my eye last spring. He runs hard and can be explosive. His lone kick return last year went for 22 yards and played in nine games mostly on special teams. Lloyd can become a reliable kickoff return man that can save the legs of some of the other return candidates.

Sampson James, Freshman, 6’1” 212lbs

James has a chance to make a splash this spring on offense, he can also find a role on special teams as a returner. It’s spring ball, so why not see what you have there.

Cole Gest, Redshirt Junior, 5’8”/194lbs

Gest is coming off of ACL surgery, so returning kicks in spring may be out of the question. However, once fall rolls around he may find he way on to the return team. The running back position is deep and while nobody is “expendable”, Gest is a luxury that can be a weapon on returns. In his career at IU he has returned six kicks for 131 yards.

Punt Return

Reese Taylor, Sophomore, 5’1

As we stated above, Taylor is one of the most dynamic players on the IU roster. Even if he is not the primary punt returner, Taylor can be used in a pinch if the Hoosiers need a big return.

Whop Philyor, Junior, 5’11”/180lbs

Whop Philyor was limited by injuries in 2018 and it robbed IU of an explosive play maker. If he is healthy enough, Philyor can be an option here as well. How big of a chance he gets will be determined how much Tom Allen and Kalen DeBoer want to save his legs for offense.

Jaylin Williams, Sophomore, 6’0”/179lbs

One of the fastest players on the team, Williams would be a perfect fit at punt return. He is a player who can make one cut and get up field.