Special teams was a one-man show last year. Anthony Fera was the star. Rarely do you see a player serve double duty as the place kicker and punter, but he did just that. And Fera was very good at both. He was a consensus All-American and Groza award finalist in 2013.
Fera has since graduated, leaving questions on special teams.
Who replaces Fera as the place kicker?
Texas has experienced special teams players on the roster. Nick Jordan was the kicker before Fera transferred from the Penn State Nittany Lions. Jordan converted nine of 15 field goal tries as well as 31 of 32 extra point attempts in 2012. Mack Brown didn’t trust Jordan with many kicks over forty yards – he was just 1-5 on kicks 40-49 yards. A strong fall practice could help him secure the kicking job to start the season.
One guy that definitely has the leg for long-range field goals is Nick Rose. Rose has served as the kickoff specialist on the Texas special teams unit the last two seasons. Rose has seen his touch back percentage rise each year, from 36 percent in 2012 to 42 percent last year. Despite the strong leg, he has only attempted three extra points in his career (converting all three).
The kicking battle is squarely between Jordan and Rose. Expect Rose to continue to handle the kick-off chores. Special teams coach Chris Vaughn has not named a front runner.
Who replaces Fera as the punter?
It’s hard to say if Fera serving as the team’s punter last season is an indictment on the lack of talent on the roster, or if Fera was that good. Texas fans will find out soon enough.
William Russ seems poised to take over the punting duties. Russ came to Texas as the country’s No. 13 ranked kicking prospect. Yet he hasn’t seen much of the field in his time in Austin. Russ did have a strong spring game, averaging more than 43 yards per kick. It would appear the job is his to lose. Michael Davidson and Mitchell Becker will try to steal the job away.
Special teams can be an under-appreciated part of the game. When you have a strong special teams unit, especially the kicking portion, you take success for granted. That’s what a Fera or Justin Tucker do for you. We will have to wait and see if this group can get out from under Fera’s shadow and make their own niche in Texas kicking lore.