A strong special teams unit can often factor tremendously into a win or loss.
Timely blocks, well-executed punts, field goals and inspirational returns are just some of the little plays that go a long way towards determining a good result, and the Texas Longhorns will need plenty of them this season.
The 'Horns typically field a strong special teams unit, although those foundations have weakened tremendously in the past few seasons.
In the 2012 season, Texas' special teams often hung by a thread on multiple fronts, especially in the kicking game where the Longhorns still cannot issue confidence to one of their two kicking options.
In the final positional breakdown before the 2013 season, the 'Horns face uncertainty all over the place. For a special teams unit that really fell below its usual standards last season, the group will have something to prove this coming year. But who will step up?
Kicking and Screaming
Any casual Texas fan knows of the successive line of kickers to have come through the program. Dusty Mangum, Hunter Lawrence, Ryan Bailey and Justin Tucker have all performed in the clutch, but it seems like those golden days have passed, as the 'Horns face some huge question marks in the kicking game.
Anthony Fera enters his senior year after struggling last season, his first following a transfer from Penn State. Fera battled a pre-existing groin injury, which opened the door for freshman Nick Jordan to have his shot, and that hardly ended well.
Neither Fera nor Jordan performed exceedingly well, and those concerns may linger into the 2013 season, which may end up handcuffing the offense a little bit.
The starting job is far from decided, but with Fera looking like an option at punter, Jordan could earn that spot by default and have a very short leash.
If the Boot Fits
The Longhorns will miss Alex King at punter this season after the former Duke transfer turned in a very strong senior campaign.
Fera and junior Will Russ are the only available punters listed on the roster, and the early feeling is that Fera will edge out Russ to snatch that gig.
The former Penn State player doubled up his duty for the Nittany Lions, but perhaps those days are gone, as Fera could be reduced to just punting duties this year. As long as Jordan does not make too big of a mess with his field goals, Fera would likely be the first punter on the field if the season began today.
Home Run Hitters
Both Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Monroe, two speedsters who possessed home run potential every time they handled a return, are gone.
Their responsibility could fall onto a number of players' shoulders.
Daje Johnson should be the hands-on favorite to return kicks, but Duke Thomas could nestle into a nice role for himself as well after getting some looks in the spring game.
Quandre Diggs made a little noise as the punt returner, but he could relinquish that job for a younger player on the roster with some speedy promise, something Texas has in spades.
Texas finally got back into the business of blocking kicks last season.
The Longhorns managed seven blocked kicks in 2012, with Mykkele Thompson, Carrington Byndom and Chris Whaley each chipping in two, while Alex Okafor added one of his own.
Elsewhere, names like Dalton Santos entered the fold with some standout play on kickoff coverage, efforts that will have to be mirrored in the 2013 season.
The Bottom Line
The Longhorns have to be comfortable in coverage and returns, but the kicking game will have to turn the page to play catch-up. There are many questions that will need to be resolved before the year begins, and Texas could very well enter the season with little confidence at kicker and punter.
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