Miami Hurricanes Position Preview: Specialists

By Chris Cunningham
Kick Returners - Miami Hurricanes
Steve Mitchell – USA TODAY Sports

When the Miami Hurricanes lost both kicker Jake Wieclaw and punter Dalton Botts to graduation, there were serious questions about who would step up. During the spring, sophomore Matt Goudis (6-feet, 175 pounds), last season’s back up placekicker, handled both the kicking and punting duties. As the spring progressed, it became clear he just wasn’t able to handle wearing both of those hats. Then fortune smiled on the Hurricanes.

Around that same time, the Hurricanes learned that the Cincinnati Bearcats starting punter Pat O’Donnell (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) would be transferring to Miami. O’Donnell is an outstanding addition with an NFL quality leg. He was first team All Big East in 2011 and second team All Big East in 2012. He was able to average over 40 yards per punt despite the wintery and windy conditions in Ohio, so he should excel in the warm, placid weather of South Florida. Voila! Miami has a punter. Head coach Al Golden placed O’Donnell atop the depth chart even before the young man had enrolled at Miami.

With Goudis only handling field goals and extra points, the question now is who will handle the kickoff duties. O’Donnell kicked off for the Bearcats and did a nice job. However, Goudis has a strong leg as well and is penciled in as the kickoff specialist right now. I expect O’Donnell to beat him out and become the full time punter and kickoff guy.

The snapping duties will be handled by the Irish. No, not the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Redshirt senior Paul Kelly (6-foot-1, 255 pounds) will handle the majority of the long snapping. However, redshirt junior Sean McNally (5-foot-10, 200 pounds) was the starting snapper last season before being injured and losing his job to Kelly. It should be an interesting competition for those who find long snapping interesting.

Redshirt freshman quarterback David Thompson (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) was the holder on placekicks in the spring, but with the addition of O’Donnell, an experienced holder, the Canes have some options. I would expect Thompson to remain the holder due to his ability to run and throw on fakes.

The return game should again be an exciting element of Miami’s special teams game. Sophomore Randy “Duke” Johnson (5-foot-9, 200 pounds) electrified Miami fans last season returning kicks. However, with Johnson now the every-down back, coaches will limit his time on special teams. Punt returns will be handled by the explosive junior receiver Phillip Dorsett (5-foot-10, 185 pounds). Dorsett will also get the majority of kickoff returns. Johnson, sophomore receiver Malcolm Lewis (6-feet, 190 pounds) or even back up running back Dallas Crawford (5-foot-10, 200 pounds) could also see time as a deep returner on kickoffs.

Overall, the kicking game should be in adequate hands. O’Donnell is a proven commodity and will be a difference maker in field position. Goudis has looked good, but it is still unknown how he will handle pressure situations. The long snappers remain the same from a solid season before. The return game should be explosive and remind Canes fans of the days of Santana Moss and Devin Hester, when every punt and kickoff return was a chance to score. If Goudis is solid, special teams could be a difference maker for Miami.

Chris Cunningham is a College Football Writer for You can contact him on Twitter @cunn1431.

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