Last, but certainly not least, let’s take a look at the special teams groups for Oklahoma State. We are so close to gameday, folks!
Being a punter is really a thankless job. It’s the person no one wants to see on the field after a bad drive, but can be one the most influential players to a game. A good punter can be a 12th defender for a team, especially if he can coffin corner a kick inside the 20, forcing the opposing offense into poor field position. Last season, Zach Sinor was able to do that on a consistent basis for OSU, and indirectly he helped OSU win some games by helping OSU win the field position battle.
Redshirt-Sophomore Zach Sinor returns as the punter for OSU. He had a fantastic year last year for the Cowboys, and was an unsung hero in some games for them last season. As much as people do not want to see Sinor out on the field very often, when he has his opportunities he will once again prove to be another defender and help the Cowboys defense. Of his 75 punts last season, 31 were downed inside the 20, including 6 in OSU’s upset win of TCU.
If OSU can win the field position battle consistently, they will win games. Sinor will help do that, and it would not surprise me if he was All Big-12 Punter this year. If he can replicate his ability to pin teams deep in their own territory, it will give the Cowboy defense an edge all season.
Side note: Punters are people too.
Overall Grade: A
There has been an incredible pedigree of OSU kickers the last few years. Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp were nothing short of automatic in their careers for the Cowboys, and now Ben Grogan has a chance this season to join the ranks of those two. He is already in the top 7 in OSU history in kicking, and has a chance to break more records this season, his senior season. He is 4th in points scored, and second in PAT’s made and attempted. Barring injury, he has the chance to jump to 1st in both of those categories, and put himself in the group of elite OSU kickers.
While he can knock them in from field goal range, Grogan is not necessarily a specialist when it comes to kickoffs. Not very often did #19 kick one through the back of the end zone. This season, enter Matt Amendola, who has been rumored to be the kickoff specialist this season and allow Grogan to focus on his specialty of making field goals. Amendola, a redshirt-freshman, not only boomed a 50 a yard field goal in the spring game, had a couple kickoffs go through the back of end zone. Just like a punter, a kickoff acts a separate defender if the offense can start on the 20 yard like after a touchback.
I can see both kickers playing this season and working on their separate crafts this season, Amendola with kickoff and Grogan with field goals. It is good see OSU have a kicker of the future already lined up and getting to play. Getting reps this season will help get Amendola ready to take over the full kicking duties in 2017
Overall Grade: A
In the past, OSU has had some dangerous return men back deep for punts and kicks. From guys like Justin Gilbert, to Tyreek Hill, and now guys like Jalen McCleskey, have all made impacts in the return game. This season is no exception, and could be even better than the last few season.
Returning punts for OSU this season will once again be Jalen McCleskey, who had a good freshman year in the specialty position, including a TD against Texas Tech. He looks to build off of that and be even better this season. On kick return, it will be Barry J. Sanders and Justice Hill. First off, anything with Sanders’ name on it excites me because seeing him in an OSU uniform will be fantastic. But, add in Justice Hill who has worked hard enough to earn significant playing time this season, and it could be a deadly combination for the Cowboys back deep. Add in the occasionally kick return by McCleskey and Jeff Carr, and they could add a different dynamic as well.
This could be a lethal attack for the Cowboys this season, they have speed for days in the return game. I would not be surprised to see multiple kick and punt returns for TD’s this season. If it’s a close game and Hill, Sanders, McCleskey, or anybody takes one to the house, it could be a dagger to the heart of the opponent.
Overall Grade: A-
OSU is solid on every position on special teams. A solid kicking game and return game are underrated parts of a team, but that can make the most impact on a game. Zach Sinor pinned TCU inside the 20 six times in OSU’s upset win, which had a significant impact on the game. Ben Grogan made multiple game winning field goals, helping OSU continue their hot start to last season. Jalen McCleskey returned a punt for a TD against Tech, leading to a huge momentum shift and helping OSU win that game. If the special teams unit can have the same impact this season, it can lead to victories for the Pokes.
Overall Grade: A-