Countdown to kickoff: IU special teams

We’re less than two weeks away from IU football’s season opener, a Thursday night matchup with Indiana State. What better time, then, to start previewing the season? With the caveat that I’m saving some quotes and details for the previews I’ll actually get paid for, I’ll be looking at the Hoosiers position by position over the next nine days.

Let’s start with…

Special teams

Projected starters:

K Mitch Ewald

P Erich Toth

LS Matt Dooley

H Erich Toth

KR Tevin Coleman/Isaiah Roundtree

PR Shane Wynn

I’m working off the depth chart IU provided at the start of camp, which is always, of course, subject to change. One spot that’s locked up, though, is kicker, where Mitch Ewald is on the Groza Award watch list entering his fifth season with the Hoosiers. Ewald is tied for third all-time at IU in field goals (44), fourth in extra points (105) and sixth in points (237). He needs five field goals and 12 PAT kicks to pass Scott Bonnell for No. 1 in both those categories. As for total points? Well, Ewald would need a school single-season record 176 points to pass Anthony Thompson in that category; that ain’t happening. But second-place on IU’s all-time scoring list is within range. Antwaan Randle El sits in that spot with 270 career points.

Erich Toth took over IU’s punting duties in Week 5 last season and averaged 39.5 yards on 48 punts. The redshirt sophomore will be pushed by redshirt freshman Nick Campos.

Head coach Kevin Wilson heaped plenty of praise on long snapper Matt Dooley at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, and at the beginning of the Hoosiers’ training camp. The junior has handled snapping chores in every game the last two seasons, helping ensure Ewald’s success.

If Tevin Coleman doesn’t supplant Stephen Houston at running back—and maybe even if he does—he’ll see plenty of work on kick returns. He was the Hoosiers’ top guy in that area last season, averaging 23.6 yards on 24 kick returns, with a 96-yard touchdown in there. It couldn’t hurt to have a little better performance on kick returns, however; IU averaged just 22.1 yards per return in 2012.

There’s room for improvement on punt returns as well. Nick Stoner handled 13 of IU’s 14 punt returns last season and averaged just 5.8 yards per; take out his long return of 27 yards, and his average drops to 4.0 per return. IU hasn’t had a punt return for a touchdown since 2006, courtesy of Tracy Porter. Maybe that’s why Shane Wynn is listed first on the depth chart even though he hasn’t returned a punt in his two seasons at IU.

Coverage teams weren’t too bad for the Hoosiers last season, and could be better with improved depth. IU’s special teams allowed just one touchdown, and that was on a blocked punt that Ohio State recovered in the end zone. IU’s opponents averaged just 22.3 yards per kick return and 4.5 yards per punt return in 2012.

Share your words of wisdom.