Often, coaches explain that winning “all three phases” of the game is the key to victory. For the Ducks next year, there is reasonable hype around Justin Herbert’s offense and Troy Dye’s defense.
But, what about special teams? For optimistic expectations to be fulfilled in 2019, the Ducks need to win with special teams — an important one of three phases of the game.
The Return Game
The team should be least worried about this aspect of special teams, but the Ducks will feel the loss of Ugo Amadi as he makes his way to the Seattle Seahawks after helping the team lead the Pac-12 in punt return average last year. Likewise, leading kick returner Tony Brooks-James signed with the Atlanta Falcons this past weekend.
There will be plenty of options to return kicks for the Ducks. It is still unclear who the main guys will be, but some names to consider are Jaylon Redd, Travis Dye, Jevon Holland and Deommodore Lenoir.
Another thing to note is that Oregon’s special teams had one punt block in 2018, against Utah. Blocked field goals and punts are always momentum shifters, but you can’t expect them to happen consistently.
We will see if the Ducks are able to create opportunities by getting more pressure on opposing kickers.
Let’s Talk About Fourth Down
How did Oregon fare on fourth down in 2018? It depends on who you ask. Oregon went for it 28 times last year, converting on 17 tries (61%). Not bad, but whatever this is will forever be in my mind whenever I think about the Ducks “going for it.”
Outside of field goal range, the punting will continue to be a platoon system of senior Blake Maimone and Australian rugby-style punter Tom Snee, who specializes in placement. The duo finished 10th in the Pac-12 last year in yards per punt, and the unit gave up zero touchdowns but allowed a punt to be blocked in the special teams disaster that was the Arizona game.
Here is where my paranoia begins.
A breakdown of last year: The Ducks were easily last in the conference, making 6 of 11 field goals with a long of 39 yards. Adam Stack kicked 10 and made all of the six while going 36-36 on extra points. Zach Emerson contributed an 0-1 effort on field goals and 21-22 on extra points. Extra points seem to be fine, but only making six field goals concerns me.
We saw how important kickers are in last year’s UW game. Can the coaching staff trust any of the kickers to make a field goal with the game on the line? Stack has been out all spring with an injury, so freshman Camden Lewis has been kicking in his place. He and Emerson went a combined 4-4 in the spring game, but the longest was a mere 32 yards.
Maybe it’s just my experience as a Bears fan, but looking ahead to 2019, I emphasize the importance and question the solidity of Oregon’s kicking game. Those three-pointers add up, especially when playing tough teams on the road such as Washington and Stanford.
So, what do you all think? Who will be kicking field goals for the Ducks this year, and should fans be nervous about it? What about punt returns? Punt Coverage?
Eugene, Oregon Top Photo Credit: Eugene Johnson
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.
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