Editor’s note: This week we continue to break down each of LSU’s position groups as we prepare for the Tigers to open preseason practice in early August. After examining the offensive positions last week, we looked at the defense this week and conclude today with the special teams.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Just because LSU returns all of its specialists from last season doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be some changes.
Go ahead and bank on Ray Guy Award candidate Jamie Keehn and long-snapper Reid Ferguson to hold onto their starting jobs at punter and long-snapper, respectively. And it seems likely that Colby Delahoussaye will return to his role as the field goal/PAT man assuming he bounces back from the slump that affected him in the second half of last season.
But the only way to know whether he will bounce back is to see Delahoussaye execute a kick in a high-pressure situation -- and then continue to make kicks consistently. There was a time when he was nearly perfect on field goals, missing just once in his first season and a half as the Tigers’ place-kicker. However, he missed from 22, 27 and 28 yards after midseason last fall, forcing the coaches to give Trent Domingue a shot. That did not work out particularly well, either.
Domingue and sophomore Cameron Gamble handled kickoffs last season, so Delahoussaye is not LSU’s only place-kicking option, but he is probably the best option if he can return to previous form.
Entering his third season as the starting punter, Keehn has the job locked down. The Australian import continues to improve and ranked ninth nationally in punting last season with an average of 44.9 yards per kick. Domingue and Keehn’s fellow Aussie Josh Growden are also available should it become necessary, however.
If the return jobs change hands this season, it would likely be because last season’s starters -- kickoff returner Leonard Fournette and punt returner Tre'Davious White -- rank among the most valuable players on the team. Both players returned kicks for touchdowns last season and will be solid options in 2015, but the Tigers have no shortage of speedy options.
One intriguing candidate is explosive freshman Donte Jackson, whom coach Les Miles has said could contribute on offense, defense and special teams. However, he is just one of the players who will likely get a look when the Tigers weigh their options in the return game in August. Assistant coach Bradley Dale Peveto could insert nearly any of the team’s running backs, receivers or defensive backs in the return spots and he’d have a serviceable performer.
Overall, LSU’s special teams units should be solid. They need to improve a bit at defending kicks and will rely heavily on Delahoussaye to regain his mojo, but assuming that happens, the Tigers will be in good shape. The talent is there to be great.
Players lost: None
Newcomers: Blake Ferguson (Fr., Buford, Ga./Buford, ESPN two-star prospect, No. 2 long-snapper); Josh Growden (Fr., Sydney, Australia/Clare, No ESPN prospect rating).
Keep your eye on: Delahoussaye. When he nailed the game-winning field goal from 50 yards with 3 seconds to play against Florida last season, it looked like Delahoussaye could go down as one of the best kickers in LSU history. And he may still. He was 18-for-19 on career field-goal tries at that point, but his missed chip shots in the second half of 2014 created problems for the Tigers. He declared his issues resolved during spring practice, and if he is right, LSU’s offense will instantly become more potent than it was at the end of last season.
Confidence meter: Above average. With all of last season’s specialists back, we know what to expect so long as they remain in the jobs. It’s possible that a new return man could get a shot, or that the kickoff duties might change hands. It’s also worth watching which players take the field on the Tigers’ coverage units. Those groups are typically loaded with athleticism, though, so that shouldn’t be much of a concern. If Delahoussaye is solid once again, the worst-case scenario would be for LSU to be above average on special teams -- and it would not be a surprise to see the Tigers rank among the SEC’s best.