Navy Spring Practice Recap - Special Teams

Joe Buckley (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

Last year an excellent kicking game helped Navy produce the third ten win season in its history. It's often easy for fans to ignore the importance of special teams play. Navy's kicking game was the difference in wins over Air Force, Wake Forest and SMU. The one area that special teams coach Steve Johns would like to improve in is the coverage and return teams.

Despite Navy's excellent team speed the Mids were below average on kickoff and punt returns. GoMids.com takes a look at Navy's special teams after the conclusion of spring practice.

PLACE KICKERS:

Senior Joe Buckley (No. 16) started the year slowly hitting only one of three field goal attempts while missing both attempts between 30 to 39 yards. Coach Ken Niumatalolo replaced Buckley with Jon Teague (No. 45) the next game against Western Kentucky. The following week Buckley regained the starting job against Air Force. In Navy's most pressure packed game of the year Buckley was at his best. He hit all three field goals, including a then career-long 47-yarder. Buckley's clutch, game-winning 38-yard field goal in overtime not only won the game, it also gave all Midshipmen overnight liberty. Buckley was the place kicker the rest of the season.

Buckley hit six of his last seven attempts and was named first team All-East by the ECAC in his first year as a starter. He set a school record for the most extra points, 44, made without a miss. With quarterback Ricky Dobbs out against Wake Forest he had a terrific game. Buckley hit two long field goals including a career long 50-yarder in miserable weather conditions to provide the margin of victory. He also nailed an overtime field goal in a comeback victory over SMU on the road. Buckley was automatic in practice this spring and hit his only attempt, from 34 yards in the spring game.

The aforementioned junior Jon Teague (No. 45) will once again back up Buckley while handling the kickoff duties. Except for a poor performance against Pittsburgh last year Teague did a nice job on kickoffs. He averaged 61.5 yards on kickoffs and produced three touchbacks. In his only start as the place kicker Teague hit one of two attempts against Western Kentucky.

Junior long snapper Brian Ackerman (No. 96) and holder Kriss Proctor (No. 2) return. Ackerman was perfect on his snaps last year. Having an athletic backup quarterback like Proctor as holder gives Niumatalolo some nice options. Proctor has the ability to run and pass if the coach chooses to run a fake field goal attempt.

PUNTERS:

Senior Kyle Delahooke (No. 35) is one of the best punters in Navy history and certainly the best since John Skaggs graduated. Delahooke produced the third best punting season in Navy history as he averaged 43.1 yards per punt on 54 punts in 2009. He forced 13 fair catches, had 19 punts downed inside the 20 and nailed 12 punts of 50 yards or more. Delahooke ended the season ranked 22nd in the country in punting average. Delahooke currently ranks second in school history behind Skaggs in career punting average. Sophomore Justin Haan (No. 48) will back him up.

RETURNERS:

Alexander Teich (No. 39) and slotback Bo Snelson (No. 23) are slated to be the kickoff returners. Last year Navy averaged an abysmal 18.5-yard average on 46 kickoff returns. The Mids were tied for 116th in the nation for the worse return yardage. Gee Gee Greene handled the bulk of the returns last year. While the blocking of Navy's wedge left a lot to be desired Greene often spent too much time running East/ West instead of turning the ball up field.

Alexander Teich, a junior, gave the kickoff returns a boost when he was moved there late last season. Teich returned five kickoffs for 138 yards for an impressive 27.5 average. In the bowl game against Missouri he produced the Mids longest return of the season when he took a kickoff 47 yards. Teich has shown excellent speed and has a physical North/South running style. Bo Snelson (No. 23), who lettered last year as a special teams player, had a terrific spring both on special teams and from scrimmage. Last year Bo returned four kickoffs for 63 yards.

Senior Mario Washington (No 1 last year No. 85) is expected to handle the punt returns. Washington despite his good speed is rather pedestrian on returns. He's very reliable catching the ball but lacks the ability to consistently make the first man miss. Washington's 14 punt returns produced just 89 yards.

Last year's JV most valuable player John Howell backs up Washington. Howell, a sophomore slot back, possesses excellent speed and returned punts last year for the JV team.

COVERAGE TEAMS:

Navy's coverage teams were rather pedestrian last year. The Mids allowed an average of 22.9 yards per kickoff return along with one touchdown. Navy allowed 8.5 yards on punt returns and also gave up one touchdown. Thanks to Kyle Delahooke's stellar punting the Mids finished thirteenth in the nation in average net punting. Navy blocked one kick and did have a touchdown on the punt return team when David Wright (No. 18) returned a muffed Temple punt for a three-yard touchdown. Overall with its team speed Navy should do a better job covering kicks. Under Niumataolo Navy hasn't been as explosive in the return game. While Reggie Campbells don't come around very often there seems to have been more of an emphasis on ball security over having the most talented player on the end line. Remember Shun White was not used on kick returns till the Eagle Bank bowl in 2008. In fairness to the staff, with Navy's offense it's not really necessary for the return teams to produce points. However it would be nice to see better wedge blocking on kick returns. Having Alex Teich on kickoff returns for the entire season will be a plus. Teich did a very nice job getting positive yards and running hard on kick returns late in year.

In the kicking game Navy has two excellent players. Joe Buckley is both accurate and clutch while Delahooke is a terrific punter. Special teams should again be an overall plus for Navy due to the kicking game.

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