Special teams predicted to make impact in 2012
Published: Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 01:08
The West Virginia Mountaineers enter the Big 12 with a high-powered, name-brand offense, accompanied by new schematics on defense. But one constant is the personnel on Mountaineer special teams.
The most dynamic weapon for West Virginia is clearly Tavon Austin. With Austin returning kicks and punts, West Virginia has a chance to strike quickly.
Austin serves as one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country. In the kick return game alone last season, he scored two touchdowns, including a 90-yard return in WVU’s Big East title-clinching game against South Florida.
There were times Austin struggled to field punts last season, but he spent the entire offseason working on that aspect of his game.
"My No. 1 thing I worked on was catching punts this whole summer, so hopefully I can field the punts better this year, and my blocker will set up, and hopefully I can take a lot of them to the house this year," Austin said.
Austin was selected as a preseason All-American at the kick returner spot by Phil Steele.
Other guys to look for in the return game are Stedman Bailey, Brodrick Jenkins and Jordan Thompson, who all fielded kicks during training camp.
In the kicking game, the addition of coach Joe DeForest has helped develop Tyler Bitancurt, Corey Smith and Michael Molanari through the spring and fall camps. Special teams coordinator Steve Dunlap praises DeForest for his knowledge in the special teams game.
"Joe DeForest is a big part of this. He really is a great special teams coach. He’s honestly helped me a lot," Dunlap said.
Senior place kicker Tyler Bitancurt has been named to the Lou Groza award watch list. He has converted more than 72 percent on field goals over the course of his career, including a 16-for-22 effort last season. Bitancurt will get plenty of opportunities to kick field goals and convert extra points, with Dana Holgorsen’s offense driving up and down the field.
Punter Corey Smith, who battled with Michael Molanari throughout the 2011 season, will start in 2012. Smith, who transferred to WVU after spending the 2008 season at Alabama, had his best game against Pitt last season. Against the Panthers, he had a long punt of 62 yards and placed two kicks inside the 20-yard line and one inside the five-yard line. Smith will also handle the kickoff duties.
DeForest has really worked with both Bitancurt and Smith to make them better.
"We film them on the practice field with a little camera so I can go into that meeting room with the kickers, punters and snappers every day. We go in and look and try to find technique flaws to fix them," DeForest said. "They’ve already learned technique for the last 20 years. My job isn’t to change their technique – it’s to perfect their technique."
Finally, Jerry Cooper replaces Cody Nutter at the long snapper position. Nutter was a three-year starter at long snapper. Cooper, a redshirt sophomore, was ranked as the No. 3 long snapper at the Ray Guy Kicking Academy while he was in high school.