Great special teams play can be a difference-maker in college football. During the three seasons that Kevin Wilson has been the head coach for Indiana University’s football team, the special teams has neither been great nor awful. I do not see any implications of this year’s team improving dramatically in this area. If they can, it may help them become bowl eligible for the first time since 2007.
The Indiana football team will be without place kicker Mitch Ewald for the first time since he became the starter as a freshman in 2010. Ewald made 48 of his 53 field goal tries (80.3%), and missed just one of the 162 extra point attempts (99.4%) over the past four seasons. Redshirt freshman Aaron Del Grosso will likely take over as the place kicker and handle the kickoff duties this season. Redshirt freshman Griffin Oakes may see a chance if Del Grosso begins to struggle.
Erich Toth will return as the starting punter this season. The redshirt freshman averaged 40.6 yards on 52 punts last season. Toth will also be counted on to be the holder in field goal and extra point attempts. Redshirt sophomore Nick Campos will likely be Toth’s backup and will only see the field if an injury were to occur. Mitchell Paige, currently a backup wide receiver, may also see some time as the holder. This may be strictly for extra point attempts to provide the Hoosiers with an athlete at the holder position if they were to try and go for two points instead of one.
Kick and punt return duties will be primarily be handled by senior wide receiver Shane Wynn. In his three seasons at IU, Wynn has 74 kick returns for an average of 21.8 yards and 1 touchdown. He also returned 7 punts for an average of 14 yards and one touchdown last season. Starting running back Tevin Coleman may see some time at returning kicks, but IU usually likes to have just one main returner while having as many blockers as possible.
Other returning players that have experience as returners include senior wide receiver Nick Stoner, and the aforementioned Mitchell Paige. Stoner certainly has the speed to make major contributions in the return game, but he may only get chances if Wynn gets injured or shows consistent struggles. Paige has seen minimal chances at returning punts only, and will probably only get his chance with a Wynn injury and if the coaches decide to go with him over Stoner.
Senior Matt Dooley will return as the long-snapper in punting and place kicking situations. The 6-foot-4, 245-pounder has plenty of experience and has shown the ability to make tackles after snapping the ball for the punter. Dooley will be backed up by redshirt freshmen Josh Pericht (6-foot and 220 pounds).
The Hoosiers should be solid overall on special teams in 2014, with the only question mark being Mitch Ewald’s replacement at kicker, Aaron Del Grosso.