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Position Breakdown: Air Force Special Teams

With an experienced punter and kicker, how will the Falcons fill in the gaps with their returners?

NCAA Football: Navy at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The special teams are the unsung heroes of any football team. Rarely do they receive much recognition except in the case of an error (sorry, Cody Parkey), or the occasional clutch field goal. I don’t want to overstate this with bias, but special teams may be even more important at Air Force than in other college programs. Given that four of Air Force’s twelve games finished with a margin of four points or less, and the nature of a triple option offense that requires a lot of time from the game clock, an automatic kicker and efficient punters and return specialists are an absolute necessity to open up opportunities to win, especially against tough opponents.

Jake Koehnke - K

Jake is a battle-hardened kicker. He came in to 2018 as the backup, but after Matthew Philichi suffered a leg injury against Utah State, he took over the kicking duties. He made all but one of his 33 extra point attempts and made nine of his twelve field goal attempts, 100% on all field goals less than 40 yards long. He is also a proficient punter. His punts averaged 42 yards, with a 56 yarder being his longest. Although Jake will primarily handle place kicking and kickoffs, he is listed as the backup punter for the 2019 season, and conversely, the backup kicker will be the starting punter. Despite the unfortunate circumstances of earning the starting job last season, Jake will come in with a wealth of experience and the understanding that he can truly own the job.

Charlie Scott - P

Charlie Scott is a utility specialist who will be settling into the role of full time punter as he enters his senior season. He effectively split his time punting with Jake Koehnke last season, but was still in for 26 punts. His statistics were good last season. He averaged 39 yards on his punts last season with three touchbacks and eleven fair catches, but he has great placement with seven of his punts inside the 20 yard line. Charlie was also the placeholder for Jake Koehnke last season, so it will be interesting to see if he keeps up those duties this season.

Return Specialists

It’s tough to say who will be returning kick-offs and punts this season. Last year, Ronald Cleveland was the go-to man on punts and Joseph Saucier returned most kick-offs. Garrett Kauppila and Lakota Wills are the only returners who even played snaps as in the position, but they did not see any significant playing time. Garrett Kauppila is listed second on the depth chart, both as strong and free safety, so it seems likely that he will be used for his versatility, moving in and out on the defense and staying fresh for returns. With less-experienced receivers on the roster, it will probably take time to find someone who is sure-handed enough to take some returns, but as of now, I’m not even sure that the Air Force coaches know who will hold the job.

Air Force has a strong tradition of excellent special teams. Obviously, the altitude and Colorado winds can give kickers a little help to squeeze out a few extra yards on field goals, but it’s absolutely imperative to fight for field position and have an effective field goal specialist for a team without a strong hurry up package. I would love to see Air Force have a productive offense that runs up the score and controls their fate in the second half, but that’s just not realistic. I suspect that the Falcons will be in precarious situations where they will lean on the special teams to win the game. I can say with some level of confidence that with an experienced special teams unit, we should be in good hands.