Now that the ASU Football program has finished up spring ball and is headed into summer conditioning, the rarely-talked-about kickers and punters are battling for starting positions just like any other member of the team.
Last season, the special teams were a mess. The “specialists” (kickers, snappers, holders, punters) were a part of that ugly equation. Personnel changes were made during the game more than once. That’s never good.
In 2013, kicker Alex Garoutte handled the kickoff duties, while Zane Gonzalez handled the PAT/Field Goal responsibilities. Those roles stayed pretty consistent throughout the season. The reasoning is that Garoutte had a better leg for getting the ball deep (touchbacks) and Gonzalez was more accurate. Gonzalez was solid as a field goal kicker, but missed some crucial kicks in tight games.
The punting situation was a little different. At the start of the season, the coaching staff clearly wanted Matt Haack to be the punter. But he struggled. He was inconsistent. So, the coaching staff inserted Garoutte to do a “rugby-style” punt. This is when the punter actually starts running to the right and punts the ball while on the move. Lots of teams do this as it allows for the possibility of the punter to keep it and run for a first down. It also allows more time for the coverage team to get into position.
But Garoutte was not consistent as a punter. He shanked three punts in close games down the stretch, putting a lot of pressure on the defense. It’s hard to blame Garoutte, but those punts were unacceptable.
Whether or not this strategy was necessary is debatable. (Don’t forget, Taylor Kelly pooch-punted a few times as well). But this season, it appears that the coaches are going to give Haack a legitimate shot at establishing himself as the full-time punter. So far, in spring ball, he looked comfortable, consistent and proficient.
Haack is a left-footed punter. Coach Graham likes the idea that the ball spins differently than when a right-footed punter strikes the ball. It is, in fact, a little different and might cause problems for a return man.
With a new special teams coordinator and a head coach that has stated repeatedly that special teams is a priority for him, Sun Devil fans are hoping that the guys that actually kick the ball will be improved this season.