clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Indiana football position preview: Special teams

New, 1 comment

Could Charles Campbell soon become IU’s next Big Ten Kicker of the Year?

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Mississippi vs Indiana
Indiana Hoosiers place kicker Charles Campbell (93) makes a field goal against the Mississippi Rebels during the first half at Raymond James Stadium.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of previews Crimson Quarry will publish in the coming weeks looking at each of IU’s position groups entering the 2021 season.

The final third phase of the game hasn’t regularly been the cleanest for Indiana. But during the 2020 season, IU’s first under new coordinator Kasey Teegardin, the Hoosiers took noticeable steps forward. Perfect? No. But very good? Yes. Very much so.

Now, IU has the potential to be even better in that realm in 2021.

It starts in the kicking department where you could easily make the case that IU has one of the top placekicking/snapping duos in the country in Charles Campbell and Sean Wracher. There’s high upside — albeit some very, very raw talent — at punter with New Zealander James Evans taking over the job from the recently-graduated Haydon Whitehead. And there’s an expectation that Florida State transfer D.J. Matthews will add some potency to the Hoosiers’ return game.

Let’s take a deeper look:

The depth chart

PK

93 Charles Campbell, 5-9, 175, Jr.

80 Chris Freeman, 6-2, 190, Fr.

KO

90 Jared Smolar, 5-11, 221, Sr.

93 Charles Campbell, 5-9, 175, Jr.

80 Chris Freeman, 6-2, 190, Fr.

P

94 James Evans, 6-1, 222, Fr.

92 Chase Wyatt, 5-11, 196, So.

LS

95 Sean Wracher, 6-4, 200, Jr.

97 Jake Wellmann, 6-1, 225, Fr.

H

92 Chase Wyatt, 5-11, 196, So.

90 Jared Smolar, 5-11, 221, Sr.

KR

10 David Ellis, 6-0, 214, Jr.

2 Jacolby Hewitt, 6-1, 198, Jr.

PR

2 Reese Taylor, 5-11, 185, Sr.

7 D.J. Matthews Jr., 5-11, 160, Gr.

The projected starters

One of the best kickers in college football calls Bloomington home. That’s Campbell, a scholarship specialist who’s entering his second season as the Hoosiers’ go-to leg. The redshirt junior authored an outstanding 2020, connecting on 10 of his 11 field goal attempts and booting all 25 of his extra-point tries through the uprights. In Pro Football Focus’ grading database, Campbell finished as the 10th-highest rated kicker in the nation after nailing all three of his attempts between 30-to-39 yards, two of his three attempts between 40-to-49 yards and each of his three tries from 50-plus yards. Campbell’s work on field goals has also earned him some added responsibilities within the kicking ranks, as he’ll reportedly get an opportunity to handle kickoffs this season, too.

Punting, meanwhile, is going to be a question for at least a few weeks. The job belongs to Evans, but he’s never played a game of football. The New Zealander comes from the lauded Prokick Australia program in Melbourne — the same academy that produced Whitehead and scores of other successful college legs — and IU seems to be very high on his potential to navigate the learning curve in real time. Just so long as he remember to keep his helmet on his head. (For more on Evans, click that link.)

At long snapper, Sean Wracher has been the man since Day 1. Entering his third year at IU, Wracher has snapped in all 21 games the Hoosiers have played across the past two seasons. It’s hard to think of any glaring mistakes made by the Akron, Ohio native during that time — a high compliment to anyone in his position.

The return game is where IU could stand to add some juice. It feels like it’s been a while since the Hoosiers had someone who could cause an opposing cover unit to feel concerned. In Matthews, Indiana appears to have found a potential solution. The slot receiver finished his run in Tallahassee as the Seminoles’ 10th-leading punt returner of all time after he accumulated 582 career yards over three seasons. PFF graded Matthews as the 10th best regular return man in the Power 5 in 2017, the 14th best in 2018 and the 12th best in 2019. So his addition should add a little more production on possession changes.

On kicks, it feels like David Ellis will be more of a factor this year after an ankle injury limited him early during the 2020 season. Although he returned only one kick last fall, it went for 25 yards. Ellis offered a taste of his upside as a kick returner in 2019 when he totaled 579 yards and 20.7 yards per touch. The yardage was enough to rank him third nationally among freshmen, fifth in the Big Ten and 12th on IU’s single-season leaderboard. Jacolby Hewitt, meanwhile, accounted for four of IU’s six returns last year, though he averaged just 14.7 yards per return. Reese Taylor could also find himself seeing more opportunities on kicks this season, too.

The backups

Jared Smolar has exclusively handled kickoffs across the past three seasons, and it appears he’ll have some competition from Campbell this fall. Smolar has been mostly fine in that department, and his 22 touchbacks last season ranked third among Big Ten kickers. Chris Freeman, a redshirt freshman from Zionsville, will be in the mix to back up Campbell in an emergency. Chase Wyatt, who primarily serves as the holder, will likely be first in line to spell Evans, should IU need another boot.

The final word

Teegardin and his crew deserve credit for their efforts in fine-tuning IU’s special teams units. Just look at how far IU has come, per Football Outsiders’ FEI Special Teams and Field Position rankings:

  • In 2018, Indiana ranked 98th nationally out of 130 teams.
  • In 2019, the Hoosiers came in at No. 68 in the country.
  • Last season, IU took a significant leap to No. 6 overall in the nation. With that jump, Teegardin’s group ranked fifth in field goal efficiency and 25th in net field position.

Campbell’s trusty right leg is a big reason for Indiana’s rise in the ratings, but there are, of course, lots of other factors that play a part, as well. By the simple nature of his position, Wracher doesn’t get much credit for his contributions to the team. But he, too, has been an outstanding player at an underappreciated spot, giving IU further stability at snapper after the long and similarly productive careers of predecessors Matt Dooley and Dan Godsil.

“You talk about wanting to do special things as a program, you got to be elite on special teams in both your specialists and as a collective group,” IU coach Tom Allen said Thursday. “That’s a huge priority for us. We make a big emphasis of it. To me that’s going to be a big key that we don’t talk about. I think it will be a big key of us having success in 2021.”