Last season, the Colorado football team had more special teams miscues than it cares to remember.

The Buffaloes feel they are off to a good start to making this next season better. Special teams was not a major area of emphasis during spring football, but CU got enough work done to leave head coach Mike MacIntyre feeling comfortable.

In particular, the Buffs worked quite a bit on their punt and field goal units.

"Those two areas last year hurt us and we wanted to sure up our field goal protection and then get (kicker Diego Gonzalez) very comfortable," MacIntyre said. "I felt that was critical. Our punt protection and everything we worked on there was critical.

"We did it over and over and over, so I feel like we're in great shape there."

According to ESPN.com, CU ranked 82nd nationally in special teams efficiency. That was an improvement from 2014 (103rd) and 2013 (120th), but CU's special teams miscues were glaring and critical.

The first drive of the entire season, at Hawaii, concluded with the Buffs getting a punt blocked. That set up a Hawaii touchdown and set the tone for a 28-20 loss.

Against USC on Nov. 13, the Buffs lined up for a potential game-tying field goal with 14:03 to play in the fourth quarter, but the kick was blocked. On the next play, the Trojans tossed a 36-yard touchdown pass and CU wound up losing 27-24.


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Gonzalez missed two field goals early against Washington State the next week and CU would go on to lose 27-3. The following week, in the finale at Utah, CU's opening drive ended with a blocked field goal, and the Buffs lost 20-14.

After struggling throughout the season, the Buffs dismissed special teams coordinator Toby Neinas in December. (Neinas has since been hired as director of player personnel at Rutgers).

Special teams is now a team effort among the staff, with new hires Daniel Da Prato and Matt Thompson playing significant roles.

Da Prato will mainly work as quality control coordinator for offense, but spent the past three seasons as the special teams coordinator at Montana State and will help with that phase of the game.

Thompson was hired as a quality control coordinator, with an emphasis on special teams. He has worked with several area kickers over the years, including some Buffs. As a private instructor, Thompson has worked with Gonzalez and walk-on kicker Davis Price.

MacIntyre said "it helps a lot" to have Thompson working with the kickers, and the Buffs believe they have fixed the issues Gonzalez had from the left hash last season. As a junior, Gonzalez was 5-for-12 (41.7 percent) on field goals from the left hash and 13-for-17 (76.5 percent) from everywhere else.

Punter Alex Kinney, who will be a sophomore this next season, had a rough start to the 2015 season but got better as the season went along.

Coming out of the spring, MacIntyre said, "Our kicker and punter both have a lot more confidence now."

As quality control coaches, Da Prato and Thompson will break down film and statistics, assist with practice organization and whatever else will help the Buffs run smoothly on special teams.

"It should make us more efficient and be able to give us more answers at our fingertips to be able to use and evaluate," MacIntyre said.

During the spring, the Buffs did not work a lot on the return units, but they'll dive into that this fall.

On kickoff return, MacIntyre said Donovan Lee is the primary returner at this point, with Isaiah Oliver or Phillip Lindsay as the No. 2. Lee led the Buffs with 22 returns for 540 yards (24.5 average).

The Buffs need to replace Nelson Spruce, now with the NFL's Los Angeles Rams, at punt return. For now, sophomore Jay MacIntyre, the coach's son, is in the top spot, with junior Shay Fields as the backup.

MacIntyre said several freshmen will get opportunities to try out for return duties in the fall.

Brian Howell: howellb@dailycamera.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.