Special teams at the college level are often a crapshoot. Many of the coverage units have backups or walkons filling them that don’t otherwise play. Kickers can go from automatic to a headcase overnight. Shanked punts are far more common and if you have a speedy return man it is a blessing, but a return man with shaky hands can be a nightmare.
Overall last season Purdue’s special teams were not good. A freshman punter took over in midseason for a senior. Our senior kicker made one field goal beyond 22 yards all season and didn’t even attempt a kick in 6 of 12 games. Our top return man is off to the NFL, and opponents returned kicks and punts better than Purdue.
All of this makes for a reboot in 2016. Just two starters at the major special teams positions return, and that could be a good thing.
Myle Homan – Fr. (RS) – it appears that a couple of walk-on kickers like Brian Bravo have left the program, leaving Homan as the lone walk-on. Of the three previous walk-ons that couldn’t supplant Paul Griggs last year, Homan was the best. He was 5 of 11 in the spring kick scrimmage (played in swirling 50 mph winds). He is probably going to be the backup, but if he can consistently get the ball to the end zone look for him to be a kickoff specialist.
J.D. Dellinger – Fr. – Dellinger wins the job by default and we had better hope he works out. In the fall kick scrimmage he was 11 of 14 on field goals with a long of 48 yards. He hit everything within 35 yards, which is good. It appears to be Dellinger’s job to lose, and after Griggs inexplicably went south last year he will likely be an improvement.
Joe Schopper – So. – Schopper was a true freshman last season and took over after Thomas Meadows struggled. He ended up averaging 40.2 yards per kick and downed 20 of 58 punts inside the 20 with only two touchbacks. Those are solid numbers from the freshman. He had a long of 69 yards, but he needs to develop some more consistency this year.
Jake Herr – Fr. (RS) – The redshirt freshman walk-on from Carmel is basically insurance in case Schopper gets injured or falls apart.
Ben Makowski – So. – The long-snapping tradition continues as Purdue had no issues last year at all even though Makowski was a true freshman. He started all 12 games and basically has the position on lockdown.
Ryan Sadkowski – So. – Sadkowski joined the team as a walk-on this spring and is likely the emergency guy behind Makowski.
Nelson Avent – Fr. – Avent is a freshman from Nashville, Tennessee and walked on to the team this fall. Look for him to “redshirt” and he may not play until Makowski is gone in three years.
Frankie Williams was Purdue’s top return man last season, but aside from one 51 yard punt return there wasn’t much from the return game at all. Purdue will try to fix that with a few players. Here are the likely candidates.
Malik Kimbrough – Jr. – The extremely late JuCo transfer was brought in explicitly to be a return man. He seems more suited to do punts, but don’t be surprised if he returns kickoffs too. With no definite role in the offense or defense he can concentrate fully on being a return man, which might be a good thing. Purdue’s longest kickoff return last season was only 44 yards, and it was from Williams.
Brian Lankford-Johnson – Fr. – The true freshman appears to be in the mix to be the No. 2 running back, but he also has blinding speed and will probably be back on kickoffs too. He reportedly has the fastest 20 yard dash on the entire team. There is nothing wrong with putting that speed back there.
Jack Wegher – Fr. – Another true freshman, Wegher is kind of in the “will he or won’t he redshirt” zone. If he doesn’t, it appears he could be a kickoff return option.
Jackson Anthrop – Fr. – Anthrop is in the same boat as Wegher. He really isn’t high on the receiver depth chart, but he is good enough to make a special teams impact immediately and he could be a returner.