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August 30, 2012

Positional breakdowns part nine: Special Teams

Special teams can turn the tide of a game by returning a kickoff for touchdown or blocking punt, which are momentum shifting plays that can give a stagnant squad the breath of life it needs to overcome its opposition.

Wake Forest has the weapons in its kicking game and a deep stable of return specialists at its disposal to demand the respect of every team on its schedule.

Jimmy Newman, a 6-foot-2 and 195-pound senior from Oxford, Ala., highlights Wake's special teams units.

"I think his leg-strength is better," Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe said. "I think he's kicking off better than he has. He's literally got the leg-strength to kick from about as far back as we want to kick him."

"I think he's done a good job. When we first started all of our kickers were really trying to jerk the longer field goals rather than just let their ability take over. He's been better with just staying calm and being smooth through the long field goals. He made some really long ones in practice that have looked great."

In three seasons as the starting kicker for the Demon Deacons Newman has made 40-52 field goal attempts (with a long of 48 yards) and 104-106 PATs. Newman (224 points) ranks third on the ACC's active scoring list behind Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins (326 points) and North Carolina kicker Casey Barth (269 points).

However, Newman frustrated Grobe when he missed a routine kick in the final scrimmage of the pre-season Saturday, Aug. 25.

"I think he was doing pretty good until he banged that chip shot off the upright with no rush," Grobe said. "That got my attention. I'm hoping he just wasn't focused. I'm hoping he was thinking about what he was going to do after the scrimmage more than he was kicking that field goal."

"Jimmy's not unlike anybody else on our football team. Focus is the key every play. You're one play away from being embarrassed, so you better grit your teeth and focus every snap. That's not just Jimmy; that's a lot of our guys. The thing with Jimmy going into his senior year he needs to be one we don't worry too much about."

Chad Hedlund, a redshirt freshman from Argyle, Texas, was expected to challenge Newman for the starting job, but a strained groin has limited him most of the pre-season.

Hunter Haire, a freshman walk-on from Longwood, Fla., adds depth at kicker, but will likely redshirt this season.

Wake's very own Aussie, Alexander Kinal, who was nicknamed Mate, has emerged from "The Land Down Under" as the leading candidate to start at punter for the Demon Deacons.

Kinal, a towering 6-foot-4 and 210-pound redshirt freshman from Adelaide, South Australia, spent 2011 learning the basics and fundamentals of punting. Grobe jokes that they had to help Kinal learn how to catch snaps and put on his uniform last season.

He has been competing with incumbent starter Alex Wulfeck, a 5-foot-9 and 175-pound senior from Jacksonville, Fla. Wulfeck finished last season tied for fifth in the ACC in yards per punt with 39.7.

"I think the difference between the two is I think Alex Wulfeck right now is probably a little bit more consistent, but tends to not get quite as much hang-time from punt-to-punt," Grobe said. "Mate gets more hang-time, but has probably not been quite as consistent as Alex Wulfeck, so they both got strengths and weaknesses."

"We'll just kind of see how we go. I think we could punt either one of those guys and have a chance to win a football game. It wouldn't surprise me if we used both kids [against Liberty]. The one thing Mate needs he needs to get out there and do it in live fire and get opportunities to do it. Alex Wulfeck's been there before, but you never know what the other kid's going to do till you give him the opportunity."

At the end of the day it all starts up front, and Wake returns redshirt sophomore Logan Feimster from Statesville, NC to handle the snapping duties for field goals, PATs and punts. He carried the same load in all 13 games last season.

Ryan Bauder will add depth at long snapper, while Brad Demuth will likely redshirt this fall.

Moving to the return game, which is the most exciting component of special teams.

"We got a lot of good skill guys who can return," Grobe said. "It may be actually a deal where especially kickoff returns where we don't have two guys that do it we just kind of switch them in and out. I think we could have more than just a couple of guys that can return kickoffs. I think we could have four or five guys that would be pretty talented doing it."

Michael Campanaro proved himself as a return specialist his first two seasons with 35 kickoff returns for 828 yards, and a 50-yard punt return for a touchdown at Clemson in 2011.

"I think our tendency would be to try to put a lot more on Camp than we did last year, but if we put too much on him he's going to have trouble," Grobe said. "I would like to not see him returning kickoffs. I'd rather see him take care of the punts, and let Scooby [Jackson] and Bud [Noel] and Josh [Harris] and those guys take care of kick returns."

"Bud, you think of him playing all of those snaps at corner, but he likes to get the ball and get up through there, so you could actually have a couple of defensive guys who could be returning kicks."

An injured hamstring may keep Noel from being a factor in the return game against Liberty.

Jackson has a career average of 22.4 yards per kickoff return, while Harris is right at 18 and Noel close by at 17.9.

DeAndre Martin may also be an option as a kickoff return man.


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