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Know Thy Team 2011: Special Teams

Today's final positional breakdown (part 8 of 8!) features those players that are a little nutty because they spend a lot of time on the sidelines waiting to play. When they do play, they instantly become some of the most important players on the team. I'm referring to our Special teamers. Whenever Carson Wiggs trots onto the field it is likely a situation where we can score points. When Cody Webster comes on it means we're either scoring points (with him as the placement holder) or we need to move the other team back. Either way, their roles are critical.

Still, these guys have a bit more downtime than the regular offensive and defensive starters. That's why they create excellent names for themselves like "the Blur" and "The Perfect Storm"

Kicker: Carson Wiggs (Sr.)

Mdiway through the 2008 season Carson Wiggs took over at placekicker for Chris Summers, who was struggling after an excellent year in 2007. Since then he has been a solid weapon. When Carson came to Purdue our school record for longest field goal was a mere 50 yards. His first successful kick broke it with a 53-yarder at Ohio State. He has now kicked the four longest field goals in Purdue history at 53, 53, 55, and an amazing 59-yarder in the 2009 season opener.

Many of those kicks have been big too. His biggest may have been the 55-yarder he hit just before halftime in the upset of Ohio State back in 2009. That kick gave Purdue a lead it would not relinquish, and it came just as we were going into halftime.

We've also seen that Wiggs can go further, as he demonstrated with an amazing 67-yard field goal in this year's spring game. To put that into comparison, the longest NFL field goal ever was only 63 yards. A kicker by the name of Ola Kimrin hit from 65 yards for the Broncos in a preseason game in 2002, but that was in the altitude of Mile High Stadium. Three times a college kicker has hit from 67 in a game, but that was with a tee in the late 70's and wider goal posts. In 1985 a Nevada high school kicker hit from 68 yards, but again, he had a tee and wider posts.

Carson has a legitimate chance of hitting from 70 yards. When I asked him if kicking at home on grass or on the road on fieldturf was easier for long kicks he simply stated, "Wherever I have the most wind behind me." As we saw in the spring game, 70 yards is possible. I think the only way we will see it is at the end of a half when we have no other choice but to go for it, but think about it. As long as we reach midfield, we're technically in Carson's range. That's a great weapon to have, but apparently not enough to get put on the Groza watch list.

Wiggs is in range (no pun intended) of some career records this year. It's unlikely he will kick 32 field goals to reach Travis Dorsch's career record of 68, but Ben Jones' season mark of 25 is possible. He comes in having hit his last 8 attempts, so the school record of 12 in a row is easily within reach. So far he has scored 197 points in his career, good enough for 8th all-time and putting him within striking range of the top. Dorsch owns that record as well with 355 points. If he scores 103 points this year (very possible), he will be just the third Purdue player to score 300 points in his career and sixth to score 100 in a season. 59 points will be enough to put him third all-time in scoring behind Dorsch and Kory Sheets.

Punter: Cody Webster (So.)

When Chris Summers graduated we needed a new punter, and Cody Webster came in more than ready. As a true freshman he averaged 43.3 yards on 47 punts and dropped 12 inside the 20. Wiggs shared duties as more of the placement punter with 22 kicks (nine inside the 20), so we likely have a situation where Webster is the bomber and Wiggs is the surgical punter. Then again, If we get to the 50 we might not need Wiggs to punt, but to kick.

Cody's mom also won the 2010 Hammer & Rails Parent of the Year Award when she contacted me for a meet up after the Minnesota game and not only introduced me to Cody and his family, but brought a case of Yuengling from her native Pennsylvania as a thank you for writing at the site here. A wise man once said the best tasting beer is free beer, but when that free beer is Yuengling it is even better. That case survived through basketball season, with its final bottles being used in a desperate attempt to reverse the debacle that was the VCU game.

The powers of magical beer aside (and it has worked, as documented for last year's Northwestern game), Cody is an excellent punter that is one of the tops in the conference in terms of average yardage. Just imagine what he could do if Gibboney's coverage scheme didn't regularly vault the rush toward him like some kind of insane parkour stunt.

Long Snapper: Kevin Ballinger (Sr.)

The third member of The Perfect Storm is a newcomer taking over for longtime Blur member John Finch. Ballinger is a fifth year senior that has yet to play at Purdue, but has an uncanny ability to snap perfectly time after time. Think about it: The best long snappers are the ones that go unnoticed because you really only notice the position when something goes wrong.

Ballinger is also the author of the top long-snapping blog on the internet. He explains his role as long snapper in the following excerpt about strength and conditioning training:

Pro Agility: (line up perpendicular to the 5 yard line, run 5 yards to the right, ten yards to the left and finally 5 yards through the original starting line) Sounds easy enough right? I turned in a time that Pre-Subway Jared would have been ashamed of. I knew my running tests were going to be the worst so I just made a joke about it, lied to some people and told them I didn't care, and went on with my day.

3 Cone: (run 5 yards and touch with your right hand, turn around run 5 yards and touch with your right hand, run the same 5 yards you've already run twice and make a 90 degree turn and run 5 more yards, run around a cone as fast as possible, run back towards the 90 degree turn, make the turn and run the original 5 yards for the 4th time.) After my first two attempts I decided my clothes were obviously to blame and had to get the boot. Before I lined up for the 3rd attempt I shed my shirt and my shorts to run in only my compression shorts and to cut down on wind resistance. Wouldn't you know it, I ran my fastest time. From that point on I knew that if I was going to perform, it was going to be without the unnecessary shirt and shorts weighing me down.

40: (run 40 yards) Let me preface by saying, if long snappers were supposed to be fast then I wouldn't have made it this far. Honestly though, if we need me to run a fast 40 then we have bigger problems. This is how I look at it because it makes me feel better. But running a 40 is a weird thing, no matter how slow you run it, you feel fast. For those 5.3 seconds I might as well have been Bruce Jenner. You get tunnel vision, you can't hear anything, all you can focus is on is the finish line and how stupid you look wearing only compression shorts and the finish line being 10 yards away from the women's soccer team practicing.

It is clear from his blog design that Ballinger loves America too, so we now own the patriotic lead in the Purdue-Iowa rivalry since Ricky Stanzi is gone.

Returners: Punts - Ricardo Allen, Kicks - O.J. Ross, Raheem Mostert

Our return game on both punts and kicks has sucked the last few years. The one highlight I can think of is ATM's kickoff return for a touchdown at Indiana in 2009. That's about it. We had Aaron "fumbles" Valentin on punts for awhile, then Waynelle Gravesande, whose sole role was to catch the ball and not fumble.

With Mostert and Ross back on kicks (possibly T.J. Barbarette too) we've got some blazing speed back there that can break any kickoff for a big return. Mostert seems poised to play back there immediately since he was a return ace in high school. Barbarette was the same and is a walk-on that has earned his way to the field because of his speed.

On punt returns I can't tell you how excited I am to have Ricardo Allen back there. We should relish any opportunity to see him with the ball in his hands.

Final Analysis:

We seem to be very solid in every position, and the return game should drastically improve with all the speed we have available. We have defended returns well with teams averaging less than 20 yards per kick return and we're pretty good on punt returns as long as we don't vault rushers 10 feet into the air for easy blocks. It's very nice to go into the season feeling great about at least one aspect of the game.