Friday, July 24, 2009

2009 Preview: UCLA Special Teams

Once again the Bruins will field a very good special teams unit that will be one of the best in the conference.

Special Teams

You know, there was a time when UCLA was known for producing great safeties and even greater quarterbacks. These days, kickers come out of Westwood. So much so, you could could start calling the school Kicker-U. A few years back when the student store was selling #7 jerseys, I wasn't sure if that was for Ben Olsen or Justin Medlock.

This season is no different, with junior place kicker Kai Forbath earning pre-season All American honors by many publications. He is almost a lock on long distance kicks, hitting all 6 of his attempts from beyond 50 yards out. In any close contests, Forbath could be UCLA's ace in the hole.

The last two seasons, Jimmy Rotstein was on the kick-off team and the Bruins were not very good at pinning opponents on their end of the field. The team ranked last in the conference in that category and a lot of that came from Rotstein not getting the ball deep on kickoffs. Forbath reportedly hasn't been consistent on kick-offs in practice but he has a big leg, so if he can find some focus, the Bruins will get much better in this area.

Terrance Austin set the school record for kick-off return yards last season. Austin has been a dynamic return specialist but for some reason he has never taken one to the house. Even on punt returns, he's made his way inside the 10 on a number of occasions but he has never sealed the deal. I think this is the year that Austin breaks that barrier and I see him putting up All American numbers on returns.

The one big unknown this season is the punting game. Aaron Perez had a great career for the Bruins and his big leg lead the league in punting average last season. Jeff Locke takes over this season and reports are that he has an even stronger leg. He'll be making his first start this season and I'm sure it will take a while for him to find the consistency that Perez had as a senior.

UCLA was a middle of the pack team in punt returns. Austin didn't have any big returns but the team did block a few punts and added a couple of touchdowns. The offense will need as much help as it can get this season, so some big returns or a timely block could jump start a drive.

The Bottom Line

Special teams has been one of the few bright spots over the last decade of UCLA football. This season should bring more of the same and the strong kicking and return games could give the Bruins a few more victories this year.

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