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Countdown to the Season: Special Teams Preview

Credit:Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Football season is fast approaching and the Blue Devils are ready to contend for another Coastal Division crown.  To get you ready for the upcoming season stay tuned to Duke Report as we preview the team and conference as we countdown to the kickoff of the season against Tulane on Thursday, September 3.

Special teams should be an area of strength once again for the Blue Devils.  Duke returns their place kicker, punter, and lead kick off return man.  All three of which rank as some of the best in the conference and nation in their respective departments.  Plenty of games are won or lost based on special teams play.  The Blue Devils shouldn’t have anything to worry about in that department if all goes as expected.

Kicking Duties

Senior kicker Ross Martin has become synonymous with Duke special teams.  Martin has been the starting placekicker since arriving on campus.  Martin has made 82.5% of his kicks in his career, a number which is weighted down a bit because of a mediocre sophomore season in 2013.  Martin bounced back in a big way in 2014, connecting on 19 of 21 kicks. leading the ACC in field goal percentage, and being named Third Team All-ACC.  Martin is also the all time leading scorer in Duke Football history.  It’s expected that Martin will resume kickoff duties this season after Jack Willoughby’s graduate transfer to Ohio State.  We’re still waiting for confirmation that Willoughby survived after committing this oversight.

The punter occupys a weird dynamic on a football team.  If things went perfectly you would never see the punter take the field.  That isn’t a reality, so having a good punter is important.  Luckily for Duke, they have one.  Redshirt senior Will Monday has been a career starter and has a reliable leg and knack for pinning the ball downfield.  Monday joined his teammate Ross Martin on the All-ACC Third Team last season.  Monday averages 43.5 yards per punt over his career and has even shown the ability for the occasional trick play.  Monday has attempted a pass each year as a punter, and is actually a perfect 4 for 4, including a huge completion in last year’s Sun Bowl that helped Duke mount a comeback that ultimately fell short.

Returns

Duke’s return game starts with DeVon Edwards.  You can’t talk about special teams in the ACC without mentioning what Edwards has accomplished in his first two years in Durham.  After bursting onto the scene in 2013 with 2 kickoff returns for touchdowns, opposing teams tried their best to avoid Edwards last season.  Edwards still took 1 to the house against Pitt, in what proved to be a game saving touchdown.  Edwards averages 25.7 yards per return.  Starting field position is always important, and even more so with so many new faces on the starting offense.  Running back Shaq Powell is expected to join Edwards on kickoff duty.  Powell hasn’t shown the same type of ability in returns as we have seen from him on offense, but his durability and good hands have made him a safe bet to go along with Edwards.  Powell should get plenty of opportunities this season as most teams try to avoid kicking to Edwards, if possible.

Duke has had the luxury of having their most dynamic player the past few seasons, Jamison Crowder, also be one of the best punt returners in the conference.  Crowder’s speed, vision, and agility, things that made him an all-time great receiver at Duke, also made him one of the most exciting return men in the ACC.  Crowder returned 2 punts for touchdowns in 2013 and 2014 and averaged 13.4 yards per return over his career.  Those numbers aren’t likely to be replicated right away.  Duke may opt for safe punt returns instead of exciting ones in 2015.  Senior receiver Max McCaffrey and junior receiver Ryan Smith are expected to share punt return duties this season.  While McCaffrey doesn’t have the breakaway speed that you see in a lot of punt returners, his sure handedness earns him a lot of confidence from the coaching staff.  Smith is where the speed comes in.  As long as we don’t see any dropped punts and mistakes from the inexperienced Smith, he should get plenty of opportunities to showcase his speed on special teams.

 

All stats from sports-reference.com.

Check out our other Countdown to the Season previews:

Front Six

Secondary

Running Backs & Offensive Line

Quarterback, Wide Receiver, & Tight End