2014 Oregon Ducks outlook: Special teams

2014 Oregon Ducks outlook: Special teams
January 14, 2014, 12:00 pm
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Oregon kicker Matt Wogan.

CSNNW.com is taking a position-by-position glance at the 2014 Oregon Ducks in order to offer a sneak peak into what should be another UO run at a national title.

Today: Special teams.

Key losses: Junior returner De'Anthony Thomas declared for the NFL Draft. Senior wide receiver/returner Josh Huff is gone as is senior kicker/punter Alejandro Maldonado.

Projected starters: Bralon Addison, punt returner, Jr.., 5-10, 189 (Missouri City, Texas); Keanon Lowe, kick returner, Sr., 5-9, 181 (Portland); Matt Wogan, place-kicker and kickoffs, So., 6-2, 187 (Indian Trail, S.C.); Dylan Ausherman, punter, Sr., 6-3, 170 (Visalia, Calif.).

Positives: Oregon's special teams improved in 2013 after a disastrous season in 2012 and the addition of Wogan as the full-time starter at kicker could raise the special teams unit to another level.

Oregon ranked 19th in the country in punt return yards (12.4 per return) thanks to Addison averaging 14.1 per return (15th).

Wogan took over as the starting place kicker late in the season and made three field goals in the Alamo Bowl. On the season he made 7-of-9 attempts. He's even better as a kickoff artist recording 22 touch backs and averaging 61.7 yards per kick off compared to 57.8 for opponents.

Oregon was 27th in the nation in net punting (38.5) and ninth in punt return defense (3.25 yards per return) so Ausherman and the coverage team have their work cut out for them. But there is room for improvement.

Ausherman was brought in with the 2012 recruiting class as a transfer from College of the Sequoias. He redshirted his first year the was unable to beat out Maldonado in the 2013. Now has one year to prove his value.

Negatives: Losing Thomas's return ability is a blow. He was a first-team All-Pac-12 returner in 2012 and last season averaged 24.4 yards per return. Huff averaged 22.9 yards per kickoff return. But Oregon has never had trouble finding someone with speed to stick back on kick returns.

In minimal opportunities, Lowe, B.J. Kelley and Troy Hill showed potential. Lowe averaged 18.3 on seven returns. Hill averaged 18.2 on five returns. Kelley averaged 26.5 on two returns.

The Ducks will have to break in a new long snapper and holder after the losses of seniors Drew Howell and Dustin Haines.

Evaluation: Oregon's return game should be fine and the place-kicking should make a dramatic leap in production (nowhere to go but up, really). The only major question is Ausherman at punter. But there's little reason to believe he can't average at least around 40 yards per punt as Maldonado did (39.9).

Position grade: C-plus.

Past positions reviewed

Quarterbacks.

Running backs.

Wide receivers/tight ends.

Offensive line.