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Position Breakdown: Army Special Teams

Despite losing key kickers, Army is still dangerous on the return.

NCAA Football: Army at Navy James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Army special teams has always been an interesting position group with a tendency towards weak kicking units, yet effective return units. That norm has leveled out under head coach Jeff Monken’s tenure at Army with kicker John Abercrombie establishing a reputation as an extremely reliable kicker. Abercrombie went 8 of 9 on field goals in 2018 with no blocks and a season-high 37-yd field goal, but he’s graduated.

Likewise, punter Nick Schrage has graduated as well. Unlike most college punters, Schrage had a very light load (21 punts over 13 games) in 2018 given Army’s tendency to go for it on 4th and short yardage situations. However, when called upon, Schrage was extremely effective, averaging over 40 yards with 3 50+ yard kicks and a long of 67 yards.

On the flip side, Army returns a great deal of experience among returners with Elijah Riley, Kell Walker, and Sandon McCoy. With all that being said, let’s take a look at Army’s specialist for the 2019 season.

Kickers

Junior kicker Landon Salyers is listed at #1 on the depth chart for Army, and while not as seasoned as Abercrombie, Salyers does have game experience to draw upon in 2019. Although a backup for Abercrombie for field goals, Salyers shouldered the vast majority of Army’s kickoffs in 2018, averaging 55.9 yards on 74 kicks.

Unfortunately, Salyers was not as reliable as Abercrombie when it came to field goals. Salyers went 1 for 4 on field goal attempts; however, he did pull through with a longer, 42 yard field goal against Liberty. With Army’s offense looking to make quite a few trips to the redzone in 2019, Salyers will need to establish some consistency should the Black Knights be unable to reach the house and have to settle for a field goal.

NCAA Football: Liberty at Army Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

According to Army’s depth chart, senior Zach Potter will get the nod as the #1 punter. Potter also game action last season behind Schrage. On 10 punts in 2018, Potter averaged 30.5 yards with no blocks. While it appears Potter doesn’t have quite the boot that Schrage did, posting a 39 yard long as opposed to 67 yards, Potter was quite effective in pinning opponents deep in their own territory, with 8 punts downed inside the opposition’s 20-yard line.

Army’s philosophy to go for it on 4th and short yardage situations likely won’t change in 2019, so Potter’s workload will probably continue to stay fairly light.

Returners

The Black Knights have significantly more experience in their return game. Punt returner (and corner) Elijah Riley and kick returners Kell Walker and Sandon McCoy all return in 2019 which is good news for Army. Riley is probably the least experienced of the group, having only returned one punt in 2018 for 8 yards.

NCAA Football: Liberty at Army Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

On kick off returns, Kell Walker and Sandon McCoy both saw multiple touches in 2018. In addition to Walker’s rushing and receiving yards, he added another 66 yards on five returns. McCoy led the way in 2018, averaging 17.5 yards with 70 yards on 4 returns. With McCoy likely to pick up some slack at the slotback position, it’ll be interesting to see if the Black Knights break-in some up-and-coming running backs as returners in 2019.

While it appears that Army’s return game is well in hand, the kicking units will have a lot to prove this season. There’s no reason to worry yet, as I’m sure Salyers and Potter will come to display the same poised confidence that Army fans have come to expect during the Monken era.