Louisville’s special teams unit as a whole was a question mark going into last season as they had to replace their kicker, punter, and long snapper. All three positions ended up playing up to standards and probably exceeded the expectations of some. This season, Louisville will need deeper range in the kicking game and they could use better production from the kick return team.
Blanton Creque won the kicking job outright after the Duke game last year and he held strong through the rest of the season. Creque connected on 16 of 19 kicks last year but those misses were from longer distances. Creque posted some videos on his social media accounts this summer that showed him working out at kicking camps. I’d imagine that the coaches are happy with his improvement since he was awarded a scholarship over the summer.
The most unheralded position on the field is probably the punter but Mason King was a strong performer as a freshman last year. King was about a half a yard away from leading the ACC in punting average and the punt return defense was strong outside of a few big returns. King received some postseason recognition by some publications. One thing I will be looking out for this year is King’s hangtime on long punts. Some of the long returns that were given up were due, in part, to short hangtime.
UofL did not fare very well in the draft this past year but their top player picked happened to be Colin Holba after his one year as the starting long snapper. Holba had the unfortunate luck of following Grant Donovan who (I believe) had no bad snaps in his career. That meant that Holba not only had to sit and wait his turn, but he also would have be perfect. Holba ended up doing just that and ended up being invited to the NFL Combine.
Louisville went out and replaced the best long snapper in the country with a freshman who was picked for the Army All-American game. Mitch Hall has big shoes to fill but the Cards couldn’t ask for a better prospect to take over as he is one of the few scholarship snappers in the country. Obviously, his snaps are the focal point as Louisville hasn’t had a bad snap in years, but his coverage on punts is also something to keep an eye on. Snappers don’t always make tackles but it’s important to force the punt returner to make a move in some way on you. Whether that is forcing a guy to the sideline where you have help, or just slowing him down by making him try to juke you. Hall has to be a factor there to stop big plays from happening before they start.
Punts will be fielded again by Jaire Alexander this season. Jaire had a few highlight returns last year including a touchdown that was called back. Alexander should continue to get plenty of opportunities this year as teams don’t want to kick the ball out of bounds or short because that just gives Lamar Jackson less room to cover to score.
The sole area that needs to improve for Louisville’s special teams is the kick return unit. The group ranked 70th in the country with a 20 yard average on the season. I’ve never been a big fan of taller, “long speed” guys being on kickoff returns but that’s the style of player Bobby Petrino seems to like. Malik Williams showed a good burst and suddenness as a runner but never quite got through the hole and to the other side like you need as from a returner. Seth Dawkins was also back on kicks for much of the season and didn’t do much better. I would expect both of those guys to be deep again this year, but with new coaches taking over special teams that could change.