COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 9: Placekicker Mitch Ewald #16 of the Indiana Hoosiers puts the Hoosiers on the board in the third quarter with a 36-yard field goal against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Indiana's 2011 special teams lineup has substantial experience at placekicker but the Hoosiers have many question marks elsewhere.
First, the good news. IU has two experienced kickers, but after battling his own injuries in 2009, Mitch Ewald took advantage of injuries to Nick Freeland and had a fine redshirt freshman season. Ewald made 16-19 field goals, including 3-5 from beyond 40 yards with a long of 49. Backing him up, of course, is Freeland. As the starter in 2009, Freeland was 14-25, and was 2-2 last year before he was sidelined with a hip injury. IU is fortunate to have an experienced backup, but Freeland's career long is 38 yards, and he is 0-5 in his career from 40 yards and beyond. Ewald's better performance from longer distance (although Ewald hasn't yet made a 50-yarder) makes a difference, but this is a position where IU has some depth, although hopefully won't have to use it.
After a decent career, punter Chris Hagerup, who graduated, decided to head out into the real world instead of using his final year of eligibility. (Do you know what I would give for another year of college, particularly on scholarship? But I digress). Adam Pines shared the punting job last year with Hagerup during games games 9, 10, and 11 (Iowa, Wisconsin, and Penn State) and then was the only punter used against Purdue. His average, on 12 punts, was slightly better than Hagerup's (40.2 compared to 39.4) and he put 3 of his 12 kicks inside the 20. This position isn't necessarily a strength, but we do return some experience.
Two newcomers, freshman Matt Dooley and junior college transfer Zackary Young, will battle for the long-snapper role. Dooley signed shortly after last year's spring game. Last year's loing snapper, Jeff Sanders, is gone to graduation and last year's backup, Josh Keyt, is no longer with the team.
This is a fairly astounding statistic: IU received only 9 returnable punts last season. Tandon Doss, who is now in the NFL, fielded 7 of them. The only other true return man to touch a punt last year was Nick Turner, who fielded one and lost a yard.
While Doss was the primary kickoff returner as well, IU returns a bit more experience there. Nick Turner fielded 12 kickoffs and had an average of 21.1 yards with a long of 38. Duwyce Wilson fielded 8 for a 22.5 average and a long of 46. Turner and Wilson are the only returning players who were listed on the KR or PR depth chart for last year's finale, so this position may be a bit of a mystery until the depth chart for the Ball State game is released early next week.
As I said above, the placekicking position has quality and depth, but it's not clear what IU will be getting from the other positions. Special teams is an area where teams with less than top shelf talent can find a way to gain an advantage.