Position Preview: Special Teams

The Year That Was

A mixed bag on most fronts. Giorgio Tavecchio blew key field goals against Arizona and Oregon and made a few long ones that didn’t end up winning any games. The senior improved on kickoffs, but remained a middling placekicker, finishing fifth in the Pac-10 in field goals made and sixth in field goal percentage. Bryan Anger was his usual All-American self, but shanked a few punts on the road.

Cal ranked fourth in the Pac-10 in kick returns and eighth in punt returns — the caveat on the latter is that the fifth- through ninth-place teams averaged within 0.6 yards of each other on each return. The recently departed Jeremy Ross provided an injection of athleticism, but is currently in NFL limbo after going undrafted.

The Bears ranked seventh in kickoff coverage; this needs to be the focus for special teams coach Jeff Genyk in his second year with the Bears.

Key Changes

Both Anger and Tavecchio return as the two vital parts of Cal’s kicking game. Anger has been a perennial All-American and Tavecchio should enter the season again as the starting kicker. Genyk will have to continue tinkering with his coverage schemes if the Bears want to finish above .500.

With Ross gone, starting receiver Keenan Allen will most likely take on heavier return duties. Allen took 18 of the team’s 47 kick returns in 2009, more than any other player, and amassed 406 yards. Ross handled all but three punt returns, so Allen could take a larger role there. Senior and former JUCO transfer Coleman Edmond might also be utilized heavily there, since he looks to be around fourth or fifth on the receiving depth chart.

Keep an Eye

Jed Barnett functioned as the backup for both placekicker and punter last year as a freshman. The kid might be the future of Cal kicking.

Outlook

Expect Anger, a Ray Guy Award watch list member, to keep pace for the most part and Tavecchio to make some strides in both kickoffs and field goals. The most interesting part will be how much Cal elects to incorporate the electrifying Allen in the return game. During his freshman year, Allen has performed like a bigger version of DeSean Jackson. If the team wants to save his playmaking ability for receiver, speedsters like Kaelin Clay and Edmond could be candidates.