Welcome to Part II of a 9 part series getting us ready for spring football. We've already previewed the kick returners. Now let's move on to the most special part of UCLA football - Special Teams.
For years, the part of our team that gave us joy were our kickers and punters, keeping us in the game and out of trouble. We worshiped before the altar of Kai Forbath, marveled over the leg strength of Jeff Locke, and the amazing long snapping abilities of Christian Yount. Now the current group of Bruins will hope to make the same impact on special teams.
Let's look at the depth chart previously posted in our depth previews:
2013 UCLA Special Teams Projected Depth Chart
Ka'imi Fairbairn (SO)
Christopher Longo (RS FR)
Justin Moreno (JR)
||Peter Hajimihalis (RS FR)|
Mitch Johnson (FR)
||Jay Weneta (RS FR)
The only addition that could be made to this group is Reed Buce, who committed to UCLA after signing day as a preferred walk-on. Buce is rated as the #6 long snapper in the country and has worked with Chris Rubio, long snapping guru.
We are going to miss Jeff Locke in more ways than one - we are unsure who will be handling kickoffs this year. Fairbairn in theory should be able to handle them, but incoming punter Sean Covington also handled kickoffs in high school, hitting 17 touchbacks in 22 kickoffs. This will be one of the "battles to watch" when we head into spring practice.
As for the kicking job, it's Fairbairn's. Mora had enough confidence in him to ask him to kick a high pressure, important field goal in the Pac-12 Title game from about 40 yards out. Even though he missed (and was short...) it spoke volumes to Mora's confidence in Fairbairn. I want to believe that he will be better with one season under his belt.
We also lost another valuable part of special teams this year due to graduation - the long snapper. If you ever see the twitter lovefests between Kai Forbath and Christian Yount, you'll understand how much the kicker, punter and long snapper depend on each other in games. Kevin McDermott is moving onto the NFL and is getting plenty of inquiries from teams. There should be an open competition for the long snapper job, and with a young kicker and a younger punter, these three players could possibly be together for a long time.
Hurry up spring football. If anyone has any insights, please feel free to contribute.