Let’s face it. Following a Lou Groza Award winner (or two) is never easy. The departure of Ka’imi Fairbairn left a void on the UCLA football roster that many did not anticipate until freshman kicker JJ Molson went 12 for 20 on the season in 2016. The Bruins weren’t very successful on punts either, averaging only 35.1 yards per punt for the year. With a rather shaky year under his belt, Molson is expected to return to his kicking duties, and Austin Kent is likely to take over punting (he alternated with senior Adam Searl last year). Back up kicker, Andrew Strauch, was often subbed in last season, and he actually has a year on Molson in the program, but we need to get consistency from one solid kicker.
There aren’t any kickers, placekickers, or punters in the 2017 recruiting class, but, at this point, I think the smartest move is to work with what we have. Let’s not forget the incredibly rocky start Fairbairn had at UCLA, and he wound up doing this.
Kick and punt returns made many of us cringe last year, as both Ishmael Adams and even my favorite DB Randall Goforth had issues handing the ball and making any major headway on returns. Both Adams and Goforth have graduated, but Jordan Lasley will be back, and he was responsible for the only touchdown on a punt return in 2016. Additionally, Adarius Pickett is slated to be on special teams to help with return duties.
In years past, even “bad” years, UCLA special teams was the one unit we could rely on. Changes in the offensive scheme threw quite a wrench in the works, but hopefully the coaching staff has a plan to bring consistency and stability back to the program.