TUCSON, Ariz. — There were a couple of years there when Arizona’s “special teams” weren’t so, well, special.
Missed field goals. Missed extra points. Poor punt returns – both kickoffs and punts.
Last year, John Bonano, although a step up from Alex Zendejas, went just 14 for 20 on his field goals. In a season where it mattered, the special teams needed just a bit more.
It’s been three years since an Arizona returned a kickoff for a touchdown, although Richard Morrison did return a punt for a score.
Highlights, however, have been few. The special teams are in for another overhaul this season, though it remains to be seen whether they’re capable of living up to the word “special.”
THREE TO WATCH
Senior Jake Smith will be Bonano’s replacement. What do we know of him? Not as much as you’d like for a kicker who is an upper classman. He’s being pushed by Daniel Skowron. “Both have been pretty good in camp,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “Jake has taken a little of a lead in the last few days. Casey has done well.”
Sophomore Drew Riggleman will be the UA punter to start the season. He is a walk-on out of Sahuaro High. If he falters, Smith will be next.
Freshman Nate Phillips. Rodriguez has talked up Phillips, a freshman from Chandler all camp. If he’s not catching passes, Phillips will be catching and returning punts and kickoffs.
WHAT’S TO LIKE
That Arizona has some exciting playmakers at the kick- and punt-return spots in Phillips and Johnny Jackson. Both are also part of the mix at wide receiver.
WHAT’S TO WORRY ABOUT
Smith hasn’t pulled away in the competition for starting field goal kicker, which means he isn’t good enough yet. And Phillips is a true freshman, so there are obvious questions about his dependability.