POV’s Take: Pre-Spring Practice – Special Teams

Here is yet another great piece from MajorMajors, this time discussing who we may see in Pitt’s Special Teams’  play in 2018.

Well, Isn’t that Special?”  — A Look at Pitt’s Special Team

My apologies to “The Church Lady,” but special teams are called “special” for a reason.  You can win a game with a kickoff return; you can lose a game by giving up a punt return.  You can win a game with a 50+ yard field goal; you can lose a game by missing a chip shot. We’ve done all of the above in the last few years.

Really though, we’ve been pretty hot on special teams lately, with some heroics from Chris Blewitt, Alex Kessman and Quadree Henderson.  Where do we go from here?

Punter – Out with the Old; In with the New

Well, we lost a good one.   Ryan Winslow was a first-team All-ACC selection last season.   His average of 44.5 yards per punt topped the ACC, and he dropped 16 punts inside the 20.    He was the only player to punt for Pitt last season.

We will miss Ryan’s punting, but what about his passing?  Who can forget his TD pass to Nathan Bossory against Virginia Tech on the fake field goal – oops, sorry to bring that game up.  And I didn’t realize it, but Ryan was our holder on placekicks for the last four years.

I still remember his critical pass completion on the fake punt at Syracuse in 2015.  The pass went to Matt Galambos, of all people. Talk about catching the ‘Cuse by surprise.   I remember thinking that, succeed or fail, I like this kind of gutsy call by this Narduzzi guy.  Pitt ended up with Chris Blewitt kicking a game-winning field goal later in that drive.

Our new punter will be redshirt freshman Kirk Christodoulou (pronounced “christo-doo-lou”).  Billy Hillgrove should have fun with that one. Kirk is from Melbourne Australia. And as a freshman, he was 20 years old.

His bio says he “worked with the renowned Prokick Australia program that has produced many successful collegiate and NFL punters…Prokick Australia’s “exports” include Pittsburgh Steelers punter Jordan Berry and all three 2016 Ray Guy Award finalists: winner Mitch Wishnowsky (Utah) as well as Michael Dickson (Texas) and Cameron Johnston (Ohio State).   Well, sounds like Kirk had some good teachers.

I found some interesting information about Kirk in a Pitt News article from last season by Steve Rotstein.  For example, Kirk knows Steeler Jordan Berry from their days in Australia “It’s great to have a friend,” Christodoulou said. “I’ve known him for a few years now, so, funny enough, moving halfway around the world, you end up having another Australian next door, so that’s pretty cool.”

More from the Pitt News article: “Kirk Christodoulou didn’t grow up around the same game as everybody else on the Pitt football team — to him, it’s called “footy.”  He doesn’t say he’s going to go practice some punting — he’s going to “have a kick.” He wears cleats just like his teammates — but to him, they’re his “boots.”

“The first night I got here, I didn’t have any sheets or bedding or anything, so I slept on just a plain mattress with a jacket. So then the next day I sent [Jordan Berry] a text, I was like, ‘Jordan, please take me to get some sheets. I’m freezing,’” Christodoulou said. “So we went to Walmart and Target and bought some pillows and stuff so at least I’m a bit more comfy.”

Hmmm. That doesn’t reflect so well on Pitt’s athletic department – we need to do a better job welcoming our next Australian recruit!

So how did Pitt learn about our Australian punter?  Turns out Coach Powell is friends with the guys who run ProKick Australia and gave them a call.  

In last year’s spring game, Kirk punted six times and averaged 39 yards with a long of 49 yards.  Will be interesting to see if Kirk Christodoulou is ready for the pressure spot of being the No. 1 punter on the team.  G’day, mate!

Place Kicker – A Promising Kicker Returns

Redshirt sophomore Alex Kessman, 6-3, 190#, returns as Pitt’s placekicker and kickoff man.  Alex showed a lot of promise in his first year of college kicking. As a redshirt freshman last season, Kessman converted 34-of-34 PATs and 11-of-19 field goals (58%) for a team-high 67 points.   (For comparison, as a senior, Chris Blewitt made 10 of 17 FGs, but with Pitt’s amazing offense that season, Chris made 66 of 69 PATs for a total of 96 points.)

Alex kicked a 56-yard field goal at Syracuse, tying the Pitt school record and breaking the Carrier Dome mark.  Looks like Kessman should have gone to Syracuse as he also made kicks from 49 and 42 yards that day. Not a bad day at the Dome.

The 56 yarder tied Chris Blewitt’s 56-yarder against GT for the school record.

Oddly enough, Kessman had a 55-yarder last season against GT.  (GT fans have to be going out of their minds with the long, and crucial, field goals Pitt has made against them lately.)  And by the way, Kessman also kicked a 56 yarder in high school, where he also averaged 40 yards per punt.

On kickoffs last season, Kessman had 29 touchbacks on 58 kicks, or a 50% rate.

I thought Alex did quite well last season for a first year kicker, but his stats could have been even better.  I remember him having several FGs where he seemed to hit the ball well, but he missed it just a bit to the right.  Hopefully he can make an adjustment and be more accurate going forward.

Something to tuck into the back of your mind now that Winslow is gone, Kessman played some QB in high school.

Our backup placekicker will be redshirt freshman walk-on Jake Scarton.  As a senior in HS, he converted 66 extra points and 6 field goals; his longest FG was a 46 yarder.

Return of the Long Snapper!

Pitt’s long snapper will be sophomore Cal Adomitis, 6-1, 210 pounds.  He won the job last season as a true freshman, snapping for both punts and placekicks.  Cal also played TE for Central Catholic.

Who Will Hold the Bloody Ball?

This is certainly a little appreciated position, but crucial to success on any place kicks.  I presume that Pitt will try Kirk Christodoulou as the holder, like they used Ryan Winslow, who seemed go do a very good job.  Or maybe we see Ricky Town in this spot to give us some better fake options? Tryouts this spring.

Who Will Return Kickoffs and Punts?

Obviously, we suffered a big-time loss with the early departure of Quadree Henderson.  I suspect spring ball is going to be a long tryout for kick returners. Could this be where we see an impact from Paris Ford?

Here are some candidates that I see:

–Rafael Ra-Ra Lopes – has returned three kickoffs two seasons ago and returned  one punt for 20 yards last season; has surprising speed.

–Paris Ford – elite athlete; would be a good way for him to have an impact as he learns the safety position.

–Shocky Jacques-Louis – sounds like a guy built for returning kicks.

–Maurice Ffrench – has good speed; returned two kickoffs last season.

–Tre Tipton – not sure he has the flat-out speed you’d like in a kick returner but he has good hands; might be a guy for punt returns or when you expect a fair catch.

–Michael Smith – this is just a wild guess, because he seems to be a good athlete with speed.

–Jazzee Stocker – I only have him on here because I was surprised to see on the stat sheet that Jazzee returned a punt for 66 yards last season.  Don’t remember that one.

Other candidates in the fall might be one of the freshmen cornerbacks.  They appear to have a lot of quickness. I’m thinking specifically of V’lique Carter and Marquis Williams.  And I suppose another candidate in the fall will be speedy freshman running back Mychale Salahuddin.

I’m guessing the first three in the above list, Lopes, Ford, and Jacques-Louis have the best chance to win the return jobs.

Summary

Special teams don’t get as much attention, but we keep getting reminded that they are one-third of the game.  We were treated to some great special team play in the last couple years with Quadree Henderson’s kick returns and with our placekickers making some crucial, and perhaps against-the-odds, long field goals.

We have a young crop of guys now – the biggest question mark is unknown Aussie punter Kirk Christodoulou.  Hopefully he can follow in the footsteps of those other ProKick Australia punters.

You’d think Alex Kessman would have more confidence after a pretty good performance as a redshirt freshman last season.  And our long snapper, Cal Adomitis is only going to be a Sophomore.

I’ll be curious to hear who POV commenters think will be the kickoff and punt returners.

p2166192801-11
Yes, I’m a model and I kick Field Goals!

 

NOTE: Here are The Pitt POV’s previous pre-Spring Drills unit reports:

Quarterbacks

Defensive Backs

Offensive Line

Linebackers

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Tight Ends

Hail to Pitt!

57 thoughts on “POV’s Take: Pre-Spring Practice – Special Teams

  1. Looks like a lot of young talent for special teams. Looking forward to these young pups growing into the positions.
    MM, my #1 pick to replace QH is “PF Flyer” Paris Ford.
    BTW, I used to wear PF Flyers before I switch to Converse Allstars! :>)

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  2. MM..that was an excellent write-up ! I see improvement across the board including the replacement for QH who balanced out some of his great TD runs with putting the ball on the ground in critical situations.
    Love it that Kessman is a boxer. Would love to see him kick some A$$..ha ha..just kidding…..as a group special teams have been pretty solid under Duzz…

    What are the odds Kessman stes a PITT record for longest FG ? I say he does- this year. He improved accuracy as the year went on.

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  3. I vaguely remember the Stocker’s punt return mentioned above. It was some sort of broken play or muffed punt situation where the ball traveled 15 yards and into the hands of Stocker. Stocker caught the punt and took off to the right and was able to return it a good distance. He wasn’t the intended returner, but he knew what to do with it once he fielded it.

    Nard will put some emphasis and value on a returner who can catch and secure the ball before returning it. Punt return turnovers can be killers.

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  4. from above — “Paris Ford – elite athlete; would be a good way for him to have an impact as he learns the safety position”

    Note: apparently Paris Ford was at cornerback in today’s first spring practice session.

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  5. When you posted that model comment this is the first thing I thought of… “I’m a model and you know what I mean when I do my little turn on the catwalk, ..yah on the catwalk…” Right said Fred. Anyway, Reed, I thought your next article was going to be on Ricky Towns, or did I miss that? I think Paris Ford is the one I am most interested to see. Mainly because it seems that he just loves Pitt, and has great enthusiasm, and hopefully it translates to being a ‘dog’ on the field.

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  6. I thank that we may have a stable coaching staff to finally make progress. 6-6 is probably right given this very tough schedule.

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  7. Kessman was also a QB in HS so you can run a fake FG with a direct snap to him who then throws a TD pass to backup TE Tyler Sear …. piece of cake!

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  8. Great job on the article, Major! Let’s hope Kessman improves on the accuracy, but he certainly has the leg strength. It appears some of the POVers are getting in to see the early action. Looks like wwb got a sneak peak of the return teams.

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    1. well, I hate to do this but here is an excerpt for Yahoo Sport’s Pete Thamel’s column …

      Underrated coach: Rhode Island’s Dan Hurley has the Rams in back-to-back NCAAs. If the Pitt or UConn job isn’t filled by the time the Rams tip on Thursday afternoon, a trail of speculation will follow Hurley. (Look for Pitt to be the favorite.)

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    1. probably a big build up for a big letdown. How many times were we the bridesmaids for blue chips over the past 5 years? Heron, Diallo, Swanigan, Abu, Rowan …. to name a few.

      I think we are all conditioned not to expect the best … or even pretty good

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks Major Majors. Let’s hope our very good special teams play continues without a hitch. Henderson was very special and guys like him don’t come along often. I would like to see improvement on the kick coverage teams.

    As far as Hurley, UConn has the pedigree and an easier way to the Dance, but maybe Hurley’s ego is big enough to take on the ACC.

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    1. Hurley is another one we probably can’t afford. It’s hard paying anyone when you have to pay two head coaches for the next 4 years.

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  10. I’d like to have anyone’s hair! Can’t see Hurley not taking UConn If situation is resolved. Could see him using us to get more bucks from UConn. Better geographic fit for him. This is reminding me of a game of musical chairs, where we are left standing. Boy,I hope I’m wrong.

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  11. UConn situation may not be resolved for a while. Would Hurley want a job where some NCAA probation might be in store? This is a case where Pitt’s clean record might actually mean something.

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  12. Georgia fired coach Fox would be an interesting candidate. He ran a clean program in a power 5 SEC,
    recruited in ACC area and was only paid 2.1 mil.

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    1. Fox sounds like the guy we just canned. Did he ever win the SEC? If he can’t win the SEC, how would you expect him to win the ACC? Doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.

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  13. Lots of good stuff there John. I really don’t expect much of a drop off from two years ago now that PITT has a different kicker and now a new punter. Athletic as well.

    Can’t add to your punt and kickoff returners. Looks like PITT should be fine all around. The holder may be the biggest question mark which you talked about. Again, great job. ike

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  14. It is so great to get back to some football!!! Even if it is just some super-secret-spring-ball stuff…

    Appreciate the kind words on the articles – and appreciate those who hated the articles not saying anything. 🙂

    And thanks to Reed for his assistance.

    Go Pitt.

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    1. I didn’t offers comment but I sure did appreciate the article. All the articles from everyone have been terrific. So enjoyable to read these articles after reading all that dry stuff at work all day.

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  15. I don’t think money is the main issue with Hurley. By offering him $2.5M, we would be more than doubling his salary. But he’s an NJ guy who has lived in greater NYC area his entire life, and he may not even have to move if he left for UConn. He could have an out clause written in his contract if the school goes on probation.

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  16. Anybody see Coach Watson’s interview today? Interesting stuff.

    At one point talking about the QBs and the QB room he said “We can’t have a room that’s divided — it will show up in the games.” Anyone else thing that may have been a reference to a certain QB who transferred???

    As we all wait to hear Reed’s take, Watson seems to like Ricky Town…but he did talk mainly about Ricky’s football smarts and his attitude…

    Go Pitt.

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  17. MM – very well done. Enjoyed the read after a long day at the office.

    The holder will be Ricky Town – game action, ready when needed.

    Paris Ford will be the punt returner and starting DB.

    Shocky will take a few to the House returning kicks.

    H2P!

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  18. Our endowment is 3.4 billion. That makes us one of the top 30 richest universities. Pedo and OS are only one spot ahead of us at 3.6 billion. For once, let us spend some damn money and get a quality coach. No way in hell UConn should ever take a coach from us. Strut your stuff Heather…………

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  19. From the little I gathered from today’s first day of spring practice..

    Pickett is one confident young man. He has the head to be a really good one. Weighing in at 225 he also has he physique and obviously the QB tools.

    While watching one of the after practice interviews the LBing crew walk by in the background, check it twice and did not see #58. Not starting rumors as he could have been in the group or elsewhere.

    I did see Brightwell and he looks a lot bigger.

    All three QB’s looked good in the one throwing drill. Pickett’s drop-back look the best with his sharpness

    Narduzzi and Watson said some real good things about Ricky Town. Why wouldn’t they.

    The O-Line looks like they have some real big guys.

    EJ is a funny as hell. Man that dude is on top of everything. ike

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    1. ike – at the LOI event, Coach Harley said that Brighrwell was up to 230 pounds.

      Hope Wirginis stays out of trouble…

      Go Pitt!

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    1. UPitt — I remember playing some of those cold spring baseball games at Pitt when those earmuffs would have come in pretty handy.

      Bees in the handle!

      Go Pitt.

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  20. I’d be very happy with Town being the ball holder on field goals and points after touch downs. That’s as much as I’d like to see of him on the field with the exception of mop up duty when Pitt has a 3 touchdown lead in the 4th quarter.

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