Post-Spring Review: Special Teams
With spring in the books, we're taking a look at every position group from the spring and where they stand going into the 2021 season.
That starts with the special teams units, which could be a unit that swings Cal into success, after the unit was ravaged by injury/Covid absences and played into two of the Bears' losses.
Kicker: Dario Longhetto (Ahead of Nick Lopez and Roman Donnelly)
Punter: Jamieson Sheahan (Ahead of Christopher Abbes III)
Snapper: Slater Zellers (Ahead of Daniel Etter)
In the aftermath of the spring, the Bears are going to run it back with the same starters they had a year ago. Dario Longhetto has been the most consistent of the Cal kickers, hitting a 52 yarder against Oregon State last fall. The junior kicker from Newbury Park has had to work on the trajectory of his kicks, though in a small sample size this spring, he looked fine in that capacity. Behind him are Nick Lopez and Roman Donnelly. Donnelly may have the best leg among the group, from the brief amount seen during the spring game.
Sheahan, unlike last spring, now has experience punting in a real game. He improved statistically over the last two games of the 2020 season, averaging over 40 yards per punt against Stanford and Oregon, with a high of 42.1 yards per punt. Sheahan should be helped by more depth on the return units, along with another year of being immersed in the game of football, having come to the states from Australia a year ago.
At long snapper, Slater Zellers will have a chance to become another one of Cal's surprising line of NFL long snappers. Having worked with former Bear Nick Sundberg out of high school, Zellers will start at the spot for the third straight year.
The Return Game
Nikko Remigio will continue to play at both the spots, while both Collin Gamble, Justin Baker and Kekoa Crawford all took reps at the return spots during the spring game as well. While Remigio did have a key muffed punt in the Stanford game, he also showed that he can be an explosive return man during the Oregon State game. He had two returns called back for penalties, and has been on the cusp of returning one for a score since his first return against Idaho State in 2018.
The expectation for the Bears has to be to return more than one kick for a score on the year, as they've shown the potential to do so.
Cal notably struggled on special teams last year, which isn't a big secret. Two of the Bears losses were notably swung by blocked kicks, and any positives (the 52 yard field goal against Oregon State and a blocked punt against UCLA) were outweighed by the negatives (a FG and PAT blocked against Stanford, a punt blocked against Oregon State, the two aforementioned long returns called back).
A good portion of this comes down on the circumstances of the last season. The Bears had depth taken out the day before the Oregon State game, and a lack of practice time and limits on cohorts prevented the Bears from having as much preparation, which led to sloppy play and game-breaking mistakes.
The hope is with plenty of depth (thanks to super-seniors), more practice time, an actual fall camp, no cohort limits, and motivation from a rough year in 2020, the special teams should be better. Of some of the younger guys who should see more time on special teams, Craig Woodson, Blake Antzoulatos, Ryan Puskas, and Collin Gamble could be standouts on some of the coverage units. The Bears' glut of tight ends should help on the punt shield and on the front line of kickoffs, and some of the fast wideouts should help as gunners on punt teams (namely Mason Mangum or Justin Baker).