The life of a special teams player is a strange one. You do nothing for much of the game – or really much of the season in comparison to everyone else – yet the plays you make (or don’t make) are crucial when it comes to winning games.
By Steve Wright
Special teamers have to almost take on a different mindset to that of an every-down player. It is all about being able to be ready at a moment’s notice to get on the field and to change the game. The best of the best in this regard – the likes of Dante Hall and Devin Hester as returners for example – were weapons in the special teams game who could flip field position with one return.
Army is in a unique position when it comes to its return game. The school hoards slot backs, players who seem perfect for the punt return duty in particular. These players need to have that quick, fast-twitch muscle body makeup, as the key to a return is to make one man miss then let your blockers do most di the rest of the work while you scoot downfield.
Kell Walker is likely to be the primary returner for Army this season and that is a great fit (See editor’s note below). The other player listed on the depth chart as of now is Elijah Riley. While Riley certainly has the skillset to be a high-end return guy, he is simply too important at cornerback for a team with a couple of questions in the secondary. Ideally another slot back – and again, there are a ton of them – will progress and be trusted enough to take this job. Expect Walker to grab at least one return touchdown in 2019.
It is all change at the other specialist positions on the team. The Black Knights need to bed in a new kicker and a new punter after both graduated last year. Honestly, that is a little scary for a team that hasn’t always had the best luck in transitioning kickers and punters into the starting lineup.
Landon Salyers looks like the guy who will get first crack at kicking for points. He was the kickoff specialist last year, showing that he certainly has the leg strength and range to be an effective boot for the Army team. The problem is that while the power is there, we will have no real idea if Salyers can handle the mental part of being a kicker with one strike to win a game until he is put in that situation.
The punting duties will likely fall to Zach Potter. Potter has some game experience, albeit many as a holder. Backing up Nick Schrage over the last few years, Potter has punted the ball 12 times for an average of just 31.2 yards. If Army is to be as good in 2019 as many hope, then Potter will need to bump his average up by as many as 10 yards per punt this fall.
If these positions click early on in the season then Army will be fine. This isn’t a team that takes a lot of field goals – or one that punts that often – but when a punt is needed, then Potter (or whoever else) will have to change field position or it will be a long season of frustration for Jeff Monken and his men.
Editor’s Note: Akyah Miranda will return punts and Brandon Walters will return kickoffs according to the newest Army depth chart.