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UCLA Football Spring Preview: Special Teams

As we head into the start of spring football practice, Bruins Nation wraps up its series of previews with a look at UCLA's special teams.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

On the eve of spring football practice, we wind up our series of positional previews by looking at the Bruins' special teams. If you've missed any of the preceding previews, you can find all of the projections in the Bruins Nation 2015 UCLA Football Spring Preview.

It is a sad fact that kickers, punters and especially long snappers are more likely to be cursed than celebrated. They are more likely to be remembered for a single mistake than for a string of successes. In a sport where specialization is taken to an extreme, the skill involved in kicking, punting and snapping is generally underappreciated.

Before looking at the potential spring depth chart, it should be mentioned that the special teams depth chart is based more on the 2014 season than on offseason reports and chatter. There's a simple reason for this--special teams players typically don't generate much interest and consequently get very little attention. Nevertheless, they're an important element in the success of every team.

That said, here's the projected spring depth chart:

Kicker Punter Kick Returner Punt Returner Long Snapper

Ka'imi Fairbairn

Matt Mengel

Ishmael Adams

Ishmael Adams

Christopher Longo

Stefan Flintoft

Adam Searl

Mossi Johnson

Randall Goforth

Peter Hajimihalis


Ka'imi Fairbairn is the incumbent as he heads into his senior season. Fairbairn showed improvement in 2014, finishing third in the Pac-12 in field goal efficiency (18 out of 22). His accuracy on shorter field goals (35 yards or less) is outstanding, with 29 straight conversions. Up to this point in his UCLA career, Fairbairn may be remembered more for his misses than his makes, and that's unfortunate because he's improved to become a consistent performer for the Bruins,

Stefan Flintoft didn't see the field in his freshman season, and the same fate likely awaits him in 2015.


2014 was not a strong year for UCLA's punting unit. Punter Sean Covington departed in the summer and was immediately replaced by junior transfer Matt Mengel from Long Beach City College. Mengel was adequate; he finished near the bottom of the conference rankings (8th) in punting average (40.2 yards), though he ranked higher (5th) in net punting average (37.9 yards).

Mengel surely enters spring practice as the top of the depth chart, but Adam Searl could challenge him. Searl--a redshirt freshman in 2014--saw limited action, but performed satisfactorily, finishing the season with a 39.1 yard punting average on 11 punts. It will be an interesting battle to monitor this spring and summer.

Kick Returner

Ishmael Adams has to be at the top of the depth chart after leading the team in kickoff returns (26) and yardage (591) in 2014. He also had the Bruins' only kickoff return for a touchdown:

Adams ranked ninth in the Pac-12 in kick return average (22.7 yards) in 2014.

I've listed Mossi Johnson behind Adams on the spring depth chart solely based on the fact that he was second in kickoff returns (8) and average (22.0 yards) in 2014. However, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see someone else move into the slot behind Adams by the end of spring practice.

Punt Returner

Adams was responsible for all but one of the Bruins' punt returns in 2014, and ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in punt return average at 9.2 yards. The only other player to return punts in both of the past two seasons is Randall Goforth with four returns in two years. I've placed Goforth second on the depth chart, but I think it's unlikely that he'll be asked to return punts as he works his way back from season-ending injuries to his shoulders. There is no shortage of candidates to replace him.

Long Snapper

In perhaps the least interesting and least talked about position battle, Christopher Longo claims the top spot on the spring depth chart after serving as the long snapper for all kicks in 2014. I've tentatively listed long snapper Peter Hajimihalis as Longo's backup even though the roster on the official website lists Hajimihalis' year as "unknown." Hajimihalis has been enrolled at UCLA since 2011.

Spring football practice begins tomorrow at 7 AM PT. Be sure to check tomorrow afternoon for Bruins Nation's first Spaulding roundup of 2015.