March 13, 2012

Spring practice Two-a-Days: Special Teams

The position group seeing the most turnover this year for Western Michigan, even more than the much-publicized wide receivers, is the specialists. Kicker John Potter, punter Ben Armer, punt returners Jordan White and Robert Arnheim, and main kick returner Dervon Wallace all graduated and moved on from the program. Making matters more complicated, all five of these players were steady and successful at the position.

The position closest to being solidified is at punter, as incoming freshman and early enrollee J. Schroeder is likely to get the job. Schroeder hails from Dublin, Ohio, and was planning to go to Ohio State until their internal scandal and Jim Tressel's firing left him without an offer. Now at WMU, Schroeder will certainly have to earn the job, but coach Bill Cubit has very high praise and expectations for him.

"What we saw on tape was pretty good. He's gotta be the guy, I don't think we have a choice honestly," Cubit said. "But we really liked what we saw, and we got a lot of good comments from kicking gurus. I really think he's a heck of a punter."

The kicking game will boil down to a battle between redshirt freshman walkons Chris Colombe, of Waukesha, Wis., and Andrew Haldeman of Ferndale, Mich. This should be one of the most entertaining battles of the practices, as neither has been rigorously evaluated. Spring will be absolutely key for both, as WMU would certainly prefer to go into fall with a good idea of who they can rely on, if not having the position set in stone.

"They showed some promise in the fall. John Potter was one of the best kickers in the country, so sometimes you compare those guys to John," Cubit said. "What I'm interested in, is if they can be consistent at field goal kicking. I think that's a big key so you know exactly what you've got down there in the red zone."

The kickoff return game will be wide open as well, with Dervon Wallace lost to graduation along with Aaron Winchester, who often lined up deep with him. The punt return game is not much more sorted out, as Cubit certainly has concern in these areas.

"We've got a lot of issues. We've got our kickoff return guys, Fields can help us out there, but that's a concern. For our punt returners, who's that next guy? I hope [running back Dareyon] Chance can go for us, but we'll put a couple more guys back there, see if [redshirt freshman WR] Timmy Keith can do it too. But there's a lot of concern in the kicking game, not just the kickers," Cubit said.

The last spot to be won is the kickoff man, which is almost undoubtedly going to be weaker this season than last. While four year starter John Potter was sometimes inconsistent in his placekicking, he was a huge asset in the kickoff game, recording 36 touchbacks in 2011 and contributing 36 tackles in his career when his kicks didn't make it to the end zone. Coach Cubit simply hopes that one of the two redshirts can take the reigns of both placekicking and kickoffs.

Heading into the spring, this is probably the most difficult position group to sort out. It may also be the most entertaining to watch, as it will be a very direct head-to-head matchup in many cases, and many fans will also be seeing certain players for the very first time. BroncoBlitz's reporters will keep a close eye on these positional drills as we bring full coverage of the spring football season.

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