Led by Scott Vestal (who also serves as the assistant Defensive Backs coach), the KU special teams will try to improve on a dismal 2013 season. Other than Ray Guy Award Watch List Honoree Trevor Pardula, we don't really have many players that performed really well on this unit. So even though nearly every starter is returning from last year, there is still a lot of room to improve.
Starter - Trevor Pardula (Sr) This position starts and ends with Pardula, who averaged 43.0 yds/punt last year. He pinned the opponent inside the 20 yard line 25 times and inside the 10 on 14 of his 84 punts last year. He was second in the Big 12 in terms of net punting last year. He looks primed for another phenomenal season this year.
Backup - Eric Kahn (Jr) The transfer from Mid-America Nazarene University has yet to show what he can do, as he was a redshirt his only season at MANU, sat out 2012 due to transfer rules, and sat behind Pardula for all of last season. Everything that I have read says that he could handle himself if needed, but with no real experience to back that up, I'd obviously be worried if we needed him.
Starter - John Duvic (Fr) When I first saw we were starting another true freshman at kicker, I started having flashbacks, After looking at his recruiting bio, I realized that Duvic has a chance to solidify the kicking position for us in a big way this year. He has the family kicking pedigree (both his father and uncle kicked 50+ yarders at the same high school he graduated from) and hit 3 50+ yarders in his senior season, including his career-long 54 yarder. He had several big names interested, including Michigan state, and also received an offer from Army. No matter how he performs this season, at least we can safely say we aren't starting a walk-on level player.
Backup - Matthew Wyman (So) At the beginning of last year, Wyman was a feel-good story about a kid who decided he wanted to kick for his college team, then walked down to the field and won the job. Unfortunately, his inconsistency showed through quite early, and by the time he missed a short 31-yard FG on the first drive against Texas, the coaches had had enough. Ron Doherty took over, and Wyman didn't kick the rest of the season. If we need to use him this year, our special teams will take a big hit.
Kick Off Return:
Starter - JaCorey Shepherd (Sr) Shepherd returns as the starting Kick Returner this year, coming off a solid season in that position. He averaged 22.8 yds/ret over 24 returns, which is a decent average, but there is nothing from him to write home about concerning his returns. Hopefully he gets a chance to showcase himself as a returner a bit more, but only if it doesn't hurt his play on the D.
Backups - Nick Harwell (Sr) and Bobby Hartzog (Fr) Harwell returned briefly for Miami in 2010 and 2011, but only got a few opportunities each year. He will be serviceable as a backup. Hartzog has all the skills that you want for a returner, but I doubt he gets many opportunities.
Starter - Isaiah Johnson (Jr) Johnson only returned 1 punt last year (for 9 yards) but inherits the position from Connor Embree anyway. With only 18 punts returned by the entire unit last year, there isn't really much history to use to set expectations this year.
Backups - Derrick Neal (Fr) and Bobby Hartzog (Fr) Both players should be able to fill in Johnson in a pinch here, so there shouldn't be much concern.
John Wirtel (So) and Reilly Jeffers (Jr) return to man the trenches at Long Snapper, where they performed adequately last year. Pardula and Kahn will handle the Kick Off duties, and we heard during camps updates that third-string QB T.J. Millweard (So) was excelling at the holding position.
That concludes our position previews for the upcoming season. Need a refresher? Click one of the links below to jump back and re-read for a different position group.
Editor's Note: It has come to our attention that this is not actually the last preview to be done. Due to the RB shakeup due to injury, this preview has been delayed. It should be available tomorrow.