If they do their jobs well, very few notice. If they make a mistake, it can change the game’s outcome. These players are known as Special Teams, the position group often referred to as being the X Factor in football games. This is the group that can draw the most ire from fans, but also save the game in the end. Here’s our 2014 preview.
The Key Returners
Kicker: #33 Jaden Oberkrom
Incumbent placekicker Jaden Oberkrom has one of the biggest legs in the country, and TCU fans should expect to see the junior at his best this season. Oberkrom’s career long of 56 yards gave the Frogs a 31-30 lead with 2:13 left in the 4th quarter against KSU last year. TCU will be looking for Oberkrom to produce more high-pressure kicks like this one in 2014. Oberkrom, recently placed on the Lou Groza Award watch-list for the best placekicker in the nation, is looking to build on a 2013 campaign that saw him make 14 of 18 attempts and earn a spot on the All-Big 12 honorable mention team.
Oberkrom was 37 for 37 on extra-point attempts last season, and is a perfect 79 for 79 on PATs in his TCU career—tying the TCU record. Oberkrom is looking to improve his accuracy from 50+ yards after he missed 3 of 4 from long range last season. His only miss on an attempt shorter than 50 yards in 2013 was a 42-yarder in the blowout win over SMU.
Punter: #37 Ethan Perry
Junior punter Ethan Perry has a powerful leg of his own. With a career-long punt of 64 yards, leg strength has always been a weapon for Perry. His yards per punt average in 2013 did regress slightly from 44.5 to 40.3, but Perry looked to be increasing hang-time for a coverage unit that had its struggles in 2013. Perry managed to pin 29 punts behind the 20-yard line and force 33 fair catches, both improvements on 2012’s 19 punts pinned and 20 fair catches forced.
Kick Returners: #23 B.J. Catalon and #21 Kyle Hicks
Junior tailback BJ Catalon is looking to improve on a great year that featured a 100-yard return touchdown against LSU and nearly 750 kick return yards in total. Catalon’s 26.5 yards per kick return, 2nd in the Big 12 and 16th nationally, earned him a spot on the All-Big 12 honorable mention team as a kick returner. He has exceptional vision and agility, and his breakaway speed is evident once he reaches the open field.
Brandon Carter’s departure from the program has left the other returner slot open, but redshirt first-year student Kyle Hicks was quick to fill the void, and he got the nod in Saturday’s walk-through practice alongside Catalon. Hicks could surprise some, but Catalon will feature as the primary return man.
Punt Returner: #15 Cameron Echols-Luper
Sophomore wide receiver Cameron Echols-Luper should serve as the primary punt returner this season. After a few high-profile fumbles from Brandon Carter last season, TCU fans will be looking for Echols-Luper to catch the ball first, and return second. Junior wide receiver #20 Deante’ Gray could provide some depth here, as fans might remember his 70-yard return for a touchdown in the 2012 opener against Grambling State.
Long Snapper/Holder: #50 James Power and #11 Zach Allen
Senior James Power will return as the long snapper this season, and redshirt first-year quarterback Zach Allen will serve as the team’s holder. If you don’t hear these names on Saturdays, they will be doing their jobs correctly.
All things considered, the special teams unit should be a strength for the Frogs in 2014. Oberkrom struggled a little this summer in scrimmages, but he is expected to perform very well this season. The Lou Groza Award is a strong possibility for Oberkrom this season, and TCU fans would love to see him bring the hardware home. Ethan Perry’s yards per punt average should improve this year with a stronger and faster coverage unit, and Catalon, Hicks and Echols-Luper will do well for the Frogs if they avoid turnovers and provide solid field positioning. This should be a big year for the group that ESPN’s Jake Trotter selected as best special teams unit in the Big 12.