Austin MacGinnis — The Kentucky placekicker enters his senior season with two game-winning field goals from 51 and 47 yards. A preseason All-SEC selection by the league’s coaches, MacGinnis is on pace to become the school’s all-time leading scorer.
Grant McKinniss — The Kentucky punter struggled as a true freshman. He averaged just 39.2 yards per kick which netted an abysmal 34.6 yards per try. After speaking to people who have worked with him, he has the tangibles to knock the crap out of the ball, but he must fix what’s happening in-between the ears to be successful.
Matt Panton — The Aussie is a graduate transfer rugby-style kicker from Columbia. He initially attended the Ivy League school to be on the rowing team, but opted to tryout for the football team as a sophomore. Dean Hood’s experience with Australian kickers could help transform Panton into an NFL punter.
Chuck Walker — The former walk-on has been an exceptional wide receiver, but his best contribution to the team is his performance as Kentucky’s punt returner. Walker returned 15 punts for 117 yards and a touchdown, UK’s first special teams touchdown in six years.
There are many fantastic takeaways from Walker’s touchdown, but my favorite is from Freddie Maggard, “I called it. I called it.”
The Return of Punter U? Kentucky fans embraced Steve Spurrier’s jokes about Kentucky’s punters. The program produced a ton of talent, most notably Tim Masthay, that informally transformed UK into Punter U. Last year, that was not the case.
Usually fans don’t pay too much attention to the fourth down quarterback, but last year UK could never flip the field to give the defense a break. Dean Hood wanted to see some competition at the position so he added a grad transfer, Matt Panton.
As of Wednesday, Hood still has not declared a starter. “I got two starters right now. They’re neck and neck and really doing a good job. We’re putting them in a lot of different situations, coming out of the end zone, going in and all of the green zone punts. They’ve done all the situations and those two kids are neck and neck right now.”
Can UK take a kick to the house? Last year Walker ended UK’s special teams touchdown drought of six years by returning a punt for a score, but they’re still searching for a score from the kickoff team. On more than one occasion, there was a crease to break one, but they could never get passed the guy who was the “one man to beat.”
Can Lynn Bowden make an impact? The true freshman has athleticism rarely seen at Kentucky. Unfortunately, he arrived to Lexington a week later than the rest of the team. Behind in the playbook, opportunities in the slot are not abundant right away, however, he still has an opportunity to return kicks.
Hood is considering Bowden as one of UK’s three kick returners and he’s received reps as a punt returner. Replacing the reliable Charles Walker as a punt returner is easier said than done. It doesn’t matter how athletic Bowden is, catching the ball is the most important quality in a punt returner. Deciding to catch it near the end zone or fair catch is something else he must master, which is difficult for all newcomers, especially for someone without high school experience as a returner.
If you don’t think Bowden can make plays in the return game, watch this:
Dean Hood will use two punters throughout the season, but will likely lean on Panton for most of the punts. Hood has sent to Australian punters to the NFL. That experience and the quirkiness of the style will make Kentucky dynamic in the punt game and keep opponents on their toes.
Austin MacGinnis has cemented himself into UK lore after stabbing the hearts of Cardinal fans with a dagger and knocking down an improbable game-winner against Miss. State. Even though he missed a few shots as a junior, you’ll see the most consistent placekicker in UK history this fall.
In the return game, it’s finally time we saw Sihiem King take one to the house. Drew Franklin called his shot two years ago, but King could never get passed that final guy.
This year Hood will employ three returners on kickoff, with King as the primary returner in the back of the formation. Alongside King will be Mike Edwards and potentially Lynn Bowden.
That’s right, All-SEC Mike Edwards is now involved in the return game. Too valuable to risk in his first season as a full-time safety, now Mark Stoops wants to make the most of Edwards’ abilities. Kentucky’s Honey Badger will be the surprise impact player on special teams in 2017.