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2017 Purdue Football Preview: Special Teams

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Purdue has a lot of experience returning on special teams.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

We’re at the final stop on our team previews, and it is reserved for the specialists out there. We’ve mentioned a few guys like Malcolm Dotson, Garrett Hudson, and Race Johnson who have made a living by playing on special teams in coverage units. There will likely be a few true freshmen that get opportunities there too. Today is about the specialists though, the guys who will be kicking, snapping, and returning the ball.

Placekickers

Starter:

J.D. Dellinger – So.

10 of 14 FGs, 35 of 36 XPs

For now, Dellinger is the starters, but nothing is certain. He had a slow start to last season when he missed three of his first five kicks, but the Illinois game was the turning point for him. His 28-yard game-winner seemed to give him confidence and he finished the year by hitting 9 of his last 10 field goal attempts. His lone miss was a 39-yarder against Penn State.

If he is to hold on to the job this year accuracy will be important. He only has a long of 42 in his career, so I could see Purdue using two kickers because of another guy.

Spencer Evans – Jr.

Evans is the Graduate transfer from Baylor that has two years of eligibility left. He also has a huge leg. He put up video this summer of him kicking a 75-yard field goal, which is impressive. At minimum, Evans will have a chance to be the kickoff specialist because Purdue struggled to get touchbacks last season. Dellinger only had 7 in 54 kickoffs. With Evans being on scholarship it definitely creates competition at the position, but I could see Dellinger being used for shorter attempts and PATs while Evans is used for anything beyond 40 yards.

Other Kickers

Brian Bravo – Jr.

Myles Homan – So.

Zac Collins – Fr.

Bravo has been with the program as a walk-on for three years now, but if he couldn’t break through two seasons ago when Paul Griggs was struggling I don’t expect him to now. Homan was mentioned as being in the mix with Dellinger and Evans, however, and could also be a kickoff specialist. He had originally committed to play at Navy, but walked-on at Purdue instead. As a senior at Cincinnati St. Xavier he was 39 of 40 on PATs and 6 of 13 on field goals with a long of 44 yards. Collins is a new walk-on from Louisville St. Xavier.

Punters

Starter

Joe Schopper – Jr.

114 career punts for 40.4 yard average

Schopper is a two-year starter and has been effective in his career so far. Of his 114 punts 44 have been downed inside the 20, which is a nice rate for a guy playing with a offense that doesn’t get in range to punt to the 20 a lot. He should be fine once again.

Reserve

Jake Herr -So.

The sophomore from Carmel had several big kicks in the spring game and might just push Schopper a little. This is his third season in the program and he is also a walk-on.

Long Snappers

Starter

Ben Makowski – Jr.

The proud long snapping tradition at Purdue continues as Makowski is the second straight long snapper that was recruited and on scholarship. He has had the position on lockdown the past two seasons I haven’t seen a single issue so far. Remember, there are only two ways you know the long snapper’s name: When he screws up and if you run a blog like this one.

Reserve

Ryan Sadkowski – Jr.

You had damn well better believe we have a backup long snapper. We even have LONG SNAPPER HIGHLIGHT VIDEOS!

Kick Returns

Brian Lankford-Johnson – So.

516 return yards

D.J. Knox – Jr.

The wealth of running backs means that Purdue has room to use a few on kickoff returns. Last season Lankford-Johnson was the best at it with 516 return yards. He had a long of 55, but overall Purdue barely averaged 20 yards per return. With the emphasis tony Levine has on special teams this area must improve. Tario Fuller has also been mentioned as a possible returner.

Punt Returner

Jackson Anthrop – Fr. (RS)

Darrell Hazell brought in Malik Kimbrough explicitly as a punt returner last year and he returned 9 punts for 64 yards, but 42 of those came on one return. He had more of an impact in his one touchdown at Illinois as a receiver. He is gone, but it looks like Anthrop has taken the role as a redshirt freshman. Any contribution would be nice, as this has not been a strong area for some time now.

Overall Position Grade: B+

Makowski and Schopper are solid veterans that will get the job done. I like the addition of Evans even if the occasion of a 55 yard field goal rarely comes along. He is a major upgrade on kickoffs and if it gives Purdue’s offense 10-15 more yards of range to score I am all for it.

The return game is a bit unproven. We haven’t gotten much on punt returns in years, but Lankford-Johnson has the speed to make a difference on a kickoff. Overall there is some good stuff here. It might be enough to flip a game or two if the offense and defense can keep them close.