Kick-off Return: Winston Guy (Sr.)
Punt Return: Randall Burden (Sr.)
Field Goals / PAT’s : Craig McIntosh (Jr.)
Punter: Ryan Tydlacka (Sr.)
Kick-off: Joe Mansour (So.)
Long snapper: Jon Thomas (Sr.)
Other names to remember
Gene McCaskill (Jr.)
Demarco Robinson (Fr.)
Raymond Sanders (So.)
Derrick Locke (Graduation)
Randall Cobb (NFL)
Last season UK’s special teams were anything but special. While Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb were known as explosive playmakers, neither had huge years on special teams. While both were capable of “taking it to the house” on any given play, only one touchdown was scored on special teams last season. Some will argue UK’s performance on special teams last season cost them a few wins.
The Cats started the season with Ryan Tydlacka attempting field goals and PAT’s, but that didn’t last long. Joe Mansour finished tied in the SEC with 15 touchbacks, he often struggled with his directional kicking. He also sent two out of bounds. Craig McIntosh took over the placekicking duties and showed consistency. While Randall Cobb won’t be the placeholder, McIntosh should have another big year. Ryan Tydlacka will hold in place of Cobb.
Tydlacka, a senior, has a chance to punt on Sunday’s. Last season, he had 47 Punts for 2,059 yards and 43.81 punting average. Often, punters are overlooked. However, they are a secret weapon. Many times last season, Tydlacka was able to flip the field position for the team. A big year from him will only help UK climb the SEC ladder.
Joker Phillips recently named Winston Guy and Randall Burden his primary return men. Guy will handle kick-off return and Burden will field punts. In the case of Guy, he has 14 returns for 357 yards in his career returning kick-offs. I actually felt Guy was a fearless return man in the past, so I’m anxious to see him this season. Also look for Raymond Sanders and Demarco Robinson to return kicks. Sanders returned four kicks last season with an average of 21.5 yards per return. Robinson is simply fast, shifty and can make people miss. He can be explosive.
Randall Burden has never fielded a punt during his career at UK. He looked pretty good at fan day, but he was inconsistent in the spring game. While it’s exciting to watch a return man avoid defenders and get up field, the number one job is fielding the football. In watching the players at fan day, Gene McCaskill and Demarco Robinson looked really comfortable fielding punts. Both of these guys could receive opportunities as well.
Like I mentioned above, Mansour will handle kick-off duties. The key for Mansour will be consistency. While he has the strongest leg on the team, he has to keep the ball in bounds and not kick it right down the middle. Joker Phillips is big on directional kicking. The goal is to cut down the field for the return man.
Greg Nord and Joker Phillips have spent a lot of time working on kick coverage too. Last season, E.J. Fields was one guy who the staff moved due to his aggressiveness. Covering kicks is all about speed, but guys have to tackle too. Look for the coverage teams to be much better this season.
Mitch Barnhart cited special teams as a concern last season. Greg Nord received a lot of criticism from the fan base for the execution of the unit last year. It wasn’t deserved. The staff has put a bigger emphasis on special teams overall this season and it could be the difference winning an extra game or two.