I don't often make proclamations, or predictions. Call it being afraid
of being wrong - call it anything you want. I don't know how Carolina
will fare this year - could be 3-13, could be 13-3, and it seems most
likely that Carolina will finish around average. Maybe the fan side of
me would prefer to say I expect them to be right above average.
But I'll go on record as saying that special teams will improve
greatly. Legitimately the worst unit on the 2011 team (the defense
didn't do much better), there were special teams scores against the team
in three games Carolina lost by a score or less.
A transition in 2012 came with some new parts, and some late-season
improvement in coverage. But Rick Gosselin's always-impressive special
teams rankings nonetheless listed Carolina dead last. Gosselin singled
out Carolina for best KO coverage, but last in net punting AND field
goals. There weren't even
And so to preview special teams' units, I'd like to focus on why it'll
*New Return Talent:
There's no doubt Ted Ginn will help out. He's shown that. 6 total
return TD in six years, so logically, it's not out of bounds to expect
him to bust one this year. Carolina has struggled with return units for
a legitimate decade, so there's no way this isn't a good thing.
Stars in our eyes, many of us dreamed of getting Dave Toub or Bobby
April as special teams coach. When the team kept Richard Rodgers, the
interim guy replacing Brian Murphy toward the end of '12, it was
disappointing. But special teams got better under Rodgers, who many say
is just better than Murphy was.
The surprise came with Bruce DeHaven being named assistant to Rodgers.
You have a 30 year pro backing a 2nd year pro. Now, some have thrown
derision at DeHaven in his career - his two most notable plays were
failures (the Scott Norwood kick to lose the Super Bowl; technically,
the last play in Bills playoff history was the Music City Miracle). But
Dehaven is nonetheless a master of the craft.
I've seen a marked increase in the consistency of both 2nd year punter
Josh Nortman and young kicker Graham Gano. Both have tons of leg but
both seem to have that energy more focused. I don't know if Nortman
will ever be incredible at the coffin corner, and a lot of leggy punters
aren't. But you'll hopefully see a lot fewer shanked punts this year
(so far so good) while the punter is aimlessly knocking the ball as hard
as possible. As well, Gano's massive leg has been great on kickoffs,
and he's become more accurate deep.
The addition of more corners to the squad should improve the kick
coverage. Losing Haruki Nakamura at safety to a concussion will hurt
individually, but I'm excited to see what will happen with AJ Klein and
Chase Blackburn. That's a major addition, compared to dropping
sometimes-active Jason Williams and usually-injured Kenny Onatolu. It's
a natural assumption that Jordan Senn and Colin Jones will remain top
notch, and Armond Smith adds a great special teams element that the team
hasn't had at RB in years.
It's hard to discount the deep leg of Gano on kickoffs as well.
So, I don't know if things will be good enough to rank top ten, but
this appears to be a unit that might not be a liability.