If the Colorado football team is to end a 10-year string of losing seasons, it will need better play on offense and more improvement on defense.

A better season from the kicking game is critical, too.

"Special teams is huge," Buffs' defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt said. "That probably is the phase I look at the most."

After an adventurous 2015 season on special teams, which included six kicks getting blocked, the Buffs made changes. Coordinator Toby Neinas was let go after three seasons in Boulder. Instead of hiring a new coordinator, the Buffs have decided to have the staff collaborate on coaching special teams.

One key addition, however, is Matt Thompson as quality control coordinator. He has been a private kicking instructor in the past, and has worked with, among others, CU senior Diego Gonzalez.

Thompson and the rest of the coaches are hoping for less adventure and more positive results from the specialists this season.

Before the start of preseason camp in August, Buffzone.com will take a look at each position group for the Buffaloes. We start by looking at the specialists.

Position: Specialists

Returnees: Snapper J.T. Bale (Fr., 6-2, 200); kicker Diego Gonzalez (Sr., 6-0, 215); kicker Chris Graham (Jr., 6-3, 240); punter Alex Kinney (So., 6-1, 215); holder Robert Orban (Jr., 6-6, 195); punter/kicker Nick Porter (Fr., 6-0, 185); punter Cameron Silzer (Sr., 5-11, 175).


Additions: Punter/kicker Cutler Halverson (Jr., 5-10, 170); kicker Davis Price (Fr., 6-3, 180)

Losses: Holder Colin Johnson (graduated); snapper Wyatt Tucker Smith (graduated)

2015 recap: Last season, Gonzalez, Graham and Kinney were in their first seasons as CU's primary kickers. All three had good moments and all three had their struggles. As a true freshman, Kinney replaced a four-year starter at punter and had a rough start. Throughout the season, however, he got better. Gonzalez and Graham teamed up to replace the graduated Will Oliver, with Gonzalez handling place-kicking duties and Graham handling kickoffs. Gonzalez was great early, but really struggled during the second half. Graham's kickoffs produced only 17 touchbacks (compared to 34 by Oliver the year before).

2016 outlook: This should be a better season for the Buffs' kicking game. Gonzalez's troubles last year mainly came from the left hash and coaches believe they found the flaw in his technique from that side. If so, he's got a strong leg and the ability to be one of the Pac-12's best. The question is whether he'll be the guy who made 12 of his first 16 kicks, or missed seven of his last 13. By the end of last season, Kinney was already proving to be one of the best punters in the Pac-12, and very few could land a kick deep inside enemy territory like he could. Obviously the Buffs want to use him less (66 punts last season), but when they do need him, he usually comes through. If Graham is to keep his job as the kickoff specialist, he'll need to be better. Gonzalez and walk-ons Cutler Halverson and Davis Price could battle for that spot. Robert Orban or walk-on QB T.J. Patterson will handle holding duties, and Bale is likely to take over as the snapper. If they are as unknown as Johnson and Smith were last year, the Buffs will be pleased, because it means they are doing their jobs.

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