Special teams are special, and we Ole Miss Rebels have reason to believe that the special teams units we'll watch this fall will be much improved on the 2012-13 units.
Last year, the Rebs finished the season ranked 111 out of 124 FBS squads in special teams performance per Football Outsiders. Yes, that was good for last in the Southeastern Conference by a wide enough margin. The Rebels were better than average - borderline good even - on field goals behind the trusty right foot of Bryson Rose, but were underwhelming at punt coverage, kickoff coverage, and returning. Jaylen Walton's electrifying kickoff return for a touchdown against Texas aside, there isn't much to celebrate from last season in those facets of the game. (In fact, if you're looking at Football Outsiders' numbers - and you should be - you'll see that the Rebs were ranked as low as 112 in "punt return efficiency" and 105 in "kickoff effeciency." Eesh.)
Part of this has to do with depth issues, as we had plenty of players on special teams who, on a deeper squad, probably wouldn't be. We also saw punter Tyler Campbell and kicker Andrew Ritter take redshirt years, the former being arguably one of the Southeastern Conference's best punters and the latter being a powerful kickoff specialist. Controlling the starting field position of your opponent's drive is the most important thing special teams units do aside from, you know, scoring points, and with those two out last season our ability to earn touchbacks or pin a team in their own red zone after a punt suffered tremendously.
Campbell and Ritter are back, obviously, with Ritter taking over kickoff and placekicking duties per the post-spring depth chart. I expect Ritter to split time with Andy Pappanastos in his placekicking duties, but I have no real reason to suspect this outside of a hunch that the Pop'n'lochnessmonster is going to be a more than capable kicker soon enough. During the 2011 season MOST OF THE DETAILS OF WHICH WE WILL NOT SPEAK Tyler Campbell proved himself invaluable, finishing fifth in the SEC and 22nd in the FBS, punting at a 43.6 yard average. He had 28 punts downed inside the 20 yard line, which was good for second in the SEC.
Hey, if there's any silver lining from the botched root canal that was our 2011 season, it's that Campbell got a lot of in-game punting experience. Let's hope that can translate over to success in 2013.
On kick return duties this season will be Jaylen Walton, I'Tavius Mathers, and, interestingly enough, Trae Elston. I expect Walton to get the lion's share of the work here. I would also not be surprised to see Jeff Scott
or Nick Brassell field a few kickoffs as well. Scott, speaking of, will be the primary punt return man this fall.
The Signing Class
Quadarias Mireles, whose dreads are sick, is a guy to look out for in the return game. The Houston Nutt signee turned Hinds Community College standout re-signed with Hugh Freeze's Rebs this past year, and is ideal as a slot receiver or returner at this level. He had 828 all purpose yards for Hinds last year, where he showed both good hands and the ability to avoid defenders in the open field. I'd expect him to get a shot at fielding a few punts.