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2019 UCLA Football Spring Training Preview: Special Teams Must Improve

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Calling the performance of UCLA’s special teams in 2018 inconsistent might be an understatement. UCLA must improve in this unit to become competitive on the field.

Chip Kelly looks on as Je’Vari Anderson (43) and Andrew Strauch (15) participate in a special teams drill last Spring.
Joe Piechowski

The special teams unit wasn’t exactly a highlight of UCLA Bruins football in 2018. On one hand, kicker JJ Molson and punter Stefan Flintoft were extremely reliable. Flintoft was ranked 6th in the country, averaging 45.8 yards per punt while Molson was tied for 65th in the country, making about 74% of his field goals and going 35-35 on extra points.

That was the good news. The bad news was that UCLA ranked 10th in net punting and dead last in the Pac-12 in kickoff coverage. There were constant mistakes on punt coverage and false starts on field goal attempts that would take Molson to the edge of his range, resulting in a drop his 2017 field goal percentage when he made 81% of his attempts.

But what is the situation now?

Who’s Gone?

  • Stefan Flintoft

Flintoft will graduate this year, and we have no punters in the 2019 class, so it will be interesting to see how the coaching staff chooses to move forward with this situation.

Who’s Back?

Kickers:

  • JJ Molson
  • Andrew Strauch
  • Crawford Pierson
  • Quentin Wallace

Punters

  • Collin Flintoft

Kick/Punt Returners:

  • Darnay Holmes
  • Demetric Felton
  • Kyle Philips

All four kickers return this year with 2018 starter Molson leading the charge. Collin Flintoft will, at this point, be on punting duties, but the coaching staff is going to have to do something about this position going forward to back fill the roster. Also returning from 2018 on kick returns is Darnay Holmes, one of the highlights of the 2017 class that has shown flashes of brilliance and will hopefully continue to improve. He led the team with three interceptions and two forced fumbles and returned both an interception and a kickoff for a touchdown last season. He started in all 12 games last year and will definitely be one to watch in 2019.

Demetric Felton and Kyle Philips were both in the mix on punt and kick returns, and both are back for 2019.

One of the major complaints UCLA fans had last year about the special teams unit besides their poor play was also the fact that there was no dedicated special teams coach. Back in November, head coach Chip Kelly dismissed the idea, basically saying that a dedicated special teams coach wouldn’t have enough to do during practice. Roy Manning was hired in January 2018 as the outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator, but was hired by the Oklahoma Sooners last month as their cornerbacks coach, reuniting him with Alex Grinch, the former defensive coordinator from Washington State, where Manning also served as the outside linebackers coach. The performance of both units was left to be desired last year. So, Bruin fans weren’t in any kind of an uproar when Manning was hired away.

During his National Signing Day press conference back on February 6, Chip Kelly confirmed that Jason Kaufusi of the University of Nevada would be hired to fill Manning’s outside linebackers coach position and the tight ends coach Derek Sage would also be the team’s new special teams coordinator. So, at this time, Bruin fans will have to keep waiting for a dedicated special teams coach.


Go Bruins!