Chatmon's mailbag: Special teams better

New season, new mailbag.

As Oklahoma opens its 2012 campaign against UTEP on Saturday, SoonerNation debuts its combined mailbag which is your opportunity to get your team and recruiting questions answered each week. If you have any questions email Brandon Chatmon at bchatmonespn@gmail.com. So without further ado ...

Brian in Soonerland asks: Interesting to see that Dalton Rodriguez may not play any OT this year...Do we like him enough at DE to give him a shot there?

Brandon Chatmon: I wouldn’t lock Dalton Rodriguez (Tulsa, Okla./Union) into any position. As we’ve seen from Nathan Hughes, just recently, the Sooners won’t hesitate to move defensive linemen to the offensive line and vice versa. Getting talented athletes is the most important thing. Ultimately, the coaches will put him at the position they feel is best for his overall potential.

Rodriguez is a quality prospect at either position. Yet with his 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame, I think his upside is higher at offensive tackle and quality tackles are difficult to find. If I’m OU, I start him at tackle first, and if that doesn’t work out, then move him elsewhere.

Vargo in Kalamazoo, Mich., asks: Give me the name of one player outside of the usual characters that you could see having a huge impact on this team.

Brandon Chatmon: Frank Shannon. While Tom Wort is the heart of the defense at middle linebacker, Shannon could have a big impact as his backup. Linebackers coach Tim Kish has spoken highly of Shannon since he arrived at OU and the redshirt freshman is listed alongside Jayden Bird as Wort’s backup.

Expect Shannon to have an impact as a special teamer and in a backup role at linebacker. He has good instincts and athletic ability. I’m looking forward to seeing Shannon in action against UTEP. And you should be too.

Bryan in Norman, Okla., asks: In Bob's early years OU's Special Teams play was better than average. In recent years they've seemed below-average at best. Thoughts on the possible cause, and will we see an improvement this year?

Brandon Chatmon: The Sooners special teams struggles have been well-documented but I expect OU to have one of the strongest special teams units in the Bob Stoops-era this season.

Tress Way is one of the nation’s top punters and should continue to put opponents in bad situations by changing field position. Michael Hunnicutt gives OU a quality field goal kicker heading into the season for the first time in years. That duo should be considered among the Big 12’s top kicker-punter duos.

Justin Brown steps in to be a threat as a punt returner after Ryan Broyles had manned that spot for the past three seasons. The Penn State transfer averaged 8.15 yards per return in 2011. Kenny Stills is also an option on punt returns with Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal waiting in the wings.

Way will handle the kickoff duties, which could be key with kickoffs moved to the 35-yard line this season, and the Sooners kickoff coverage was much improved in 2011. Roy Finch and Brennan Clay will return kickoffs.

Quite frankly, the only potential weaknesses emerge in the return game. Neither Finch or Clay have proven to be game-breaking kickoff returners and Brown has never averaged more than 10 yards per punt return during his career.

Jason in Tulsa, Okla., asks: I've heard that Trey Millard is going to get a "significant" amount of carries/touches this year. What are your thoughts?

Brandon Chatmon: I’ll believe it when I see it.

The problem is, Millard has proven to be too valuable. On special teams, on offense, pretty much anytime he steps on the field, he’s one of the best and most consistent performers. So it would be understandable if the coaches are hesitant to subject him to extra hits.

Can you blame them?

In terms of overall value to the team and program, Millard is easily in the top five in the squad. And as nice as it would be to get him the ball, that most likely won’t be the difference between wins and losses. Meanwhile, all of the other things he does for OU can be the difference.