Along with these incredible highs, the special teams delivered some deep lows. Focusing on correcting those lows, while improving the strengths is the goal for the 2012 special teams.
Junior Cody Hoffman has established himself as one of the best kickoff return men in Cougar history. Seeing him field a kickoff brings a heightened sense of excitement. There is a real feeling that he will make a big return every time. Hoffman set the school record for most kickoff return yards in a season last year (879), and breaking the career yardage record (Mike Rigell, 1,625; Hoffman, 1,259) should happen this year.
Senior O’Neill Chambers could get in the way of Hoffman setting that record. Chambers has 1,611 career return yards. He returns to the team this season after serving a suspension for more than one year. It makes sense that he would return to the kickoff return team. The only kickoff return combo in BYU history that could rival Hoffman-Chambers would be Austin Collie (1,277 career yards) and Chambers in 2008.
The Achilles heel for the kick return team in 2011 was fumbles. A fumbled kickoff was one of the seven deadly turnovers in the Utah game. A second kickoff was fumbled in the Idaho State game. In each case, the player fumbling was not a regular kickoff returner. For an unknown reason, the coaches changed return men during the game. The coaches need to make sure they don’t change return men during the game, at least not while the game is still in question.
Junior JD Falslev has been steady returning punts the last two years. He has made no major miscues and had one big return each year. Falslev is an ideal punt return man: he fields punts cleanly and can navigate through the chaos of on coming traffic. His two biggest returns in 2011 came at crucial moments when the team really needed a boost in momentum.
Falslev will have an increased role in the offense this season. It is possible that the coaching staff will look for another player, a freshman or sophomore, to assume the punt return duties. Whoever it is, BYU needs that player to continue the consistency that Falslev has provided.
Senior Riley Stephenson has been a very good punter for BYU about 90 percent of the time. He has been clutch many times during his career and done exactly what the team needs. In this era, punters are expected to do more than just boom the ball as far as possible everytime. Sometimes, Stephenson is asked to sacrifice a glossy punting average to pooch a punt 33 yards and pin the opponent inside the five-yard line.
Stephenson is also exceptional at getting the perfect hang time on his punts, which has kept returns to a minimum and on two occasions in 2011 resulted in the BYU cover team jarring the ball loose from the return man. Each time this momentum swing set up the Cougar offense for a touchdown they desperately needed.
The other 10 percent of the time, Stephenson is inexplicably off. He shanks a few punts every year, and they usually come at bad times. For example, on the very first series of the very first game in 2011, Stephenson had an 11-yard punt that gave Ole Miss the ball just 28-yards away from the end zone.
The major concern for the punt team, however, is to avoid the meltdown of bad and bobbled snaps that plagued BYU in the TCU game last year.
Junior Justin Sorensen may have hit 100 percent of his point-after-touchdown attempts in 2011, but he only converted 60 percent of his field goal attempts. None of his field goals were of the long range variety (50+ yards), which is what everyone has been waiting to see since Sorensen signed with the Cougars in 2008.
To Sorensen’s credit, he wasn’t 100 percent healthy last season. A bone spur was aggravating him. It was also his first year back from serving a two-year mission. He had the bone spur treated this off season, so it should not be a problem. With more than one year back from his mission, his leg should now be full strength.