Special Teams: Oregon’s Achilles’ Heel

David Marsh Editorials

The 2020 season was disastrous for Oregon’s special teams. The kicking game started out bad, return coverage was often lacking, and Oregon just didn’t have much of a return game of their own.

At the beginning of last season, Camden Lewis had placekicking responsibilities and basically picked up where he left off — missing easy kicks. At the end of the 2019-20 season, it looked as though Lewis may have turned the corner, as he made some important field goals against Utah in the Pac-12 Championship game. The 2020 season confirmed that Lewis may practice well, but that practice has not translated to on-field results for the Ducks.

Lewis ended up losing his job to Henry Katleman, who seems to be the answer for Oregon at placekicker. He even showed off his range during the Spring Game by making a 52-yard field goal. It didn’t clear the bar by much, but it was good.

Lewis was also part of the problem with kickoffs because he made the coverage unit’s job more difficult. He couldn’t reach the end zone with his kicks and often the opposing returner would receive the ball inside their five-yard line. To make matters worse, the hang time on his kickoffs was typically poor, resulting in the returner having the ball in his hands well before the coverage team could even get down the field. Not all the coverage problems were Lewis’ fault, though. The coverage team missed too many tackles and often did a poor job containing the returner.

Irina Filenko

Camden Lewis’ kicking ability has not improved from 2019.

On the flip side, the return units need to secure the ball. The Pac-12 Championship Game and the Fiesta Bowl put on display how poor Oregon’s return game currently is. In the Pac-12 Championship Game, Oregon lost an onside kick that was not well disguised. Then in the Fiesta Bowl, Oregon lost a short kickoff by not securing the ball and again turned the ball over on a punt return, when a blocker accidentally touched the ball.

These problems were all the more frustrating because of the hopeful bright spots in 2019’s special teams unit: Mykael Wrights’ kick returns for touchdowns and Javon Holland’s consistent punt returns. These sort of plays were nonexistent in the shortened 2020 season, and the return game was at best a non-factor, at worst a complete disaster and liability.

Something needs to change with Oregon’s special teams heading into 2021. Under Mario Cristobal, Oregon has shown flashes for great special teams play, but last year’s special teams play was abysmal. If Oregon has any hopes of making the College Football Playoff in 2021 they are going to have to improve on special teams. It’s hard to know where the current problems stem from: young players, coaching, lack of practice time?

Probably a mixture of all the above. But more importantly, how can Oregon fix them this season?

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By: UO Athletics

Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in higher education in Chicago, Illinois.

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