During their run to the Pac-12 South title in 2016, the Colorado football team proved that a team can overcome bad special teams play and still win.

While the Buffaloes have adopted "overcomers" as a slogan this year, head coach Mike MacIntyre would like to avoid special teams woes being something to overcome in the future.

"It's interesting. Special teams doesn't bite you until it bites you," he said. "Looking back (at 2016), it was kind of funny. During the time it wasn't funny at all, but it really never affected us, which to me was amazing because I thought eventually it was going to bite us and it never did."

Going into this year, the Buffs may not have too much to worry about.

Senior punter Alex Kinney, junior kickoff specialist Davis Price and sophomore place-kicker James Stefanou are all back after very good seasons in 2017. Junior long-snapper J.T. Bale is also back, along with returners Ronnie Blackmon and K.D. Nixon.

"I do feel very comfortable with our special teams," MacIntyre said.

"We have to be able to come through in tough game situations where we're going to play a lot of close games. Those guys have great experience in all of our areas, and hopefully that makes a big, big difference in some games; it definitely will."

Kinney and Stefanou are among the best in the Pac-12 and the nation at their positions.


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Knowing Kinney has the ability to flip the field and pin the opponent deep is a luxury. Feeling confident in Stefanou to nail a field goal makes a coach comfortable, too.

Both of them are weapons that play into MacIntyre's game-day strategy.

"Our punter is phenomenal at putting the ball inside the 15, really," MacIntyre said. "That makes you double think some things in some situations. You want to be aggressive and score points, but if you can pin them back there and your defense is playing good ... that's really points. You're probably going to have a better field goal, you're probably going to have a better opportunity to score (after that)."

While the Buffs feel confident in their kickers, they are also coming off a year in which they were much better in kick coverage.

Opponents had just 75 yards in punt returns in 2017, compared to 341 in 2016. The Buffs gave up 19.9 yards per kickoff return last year, a 6.5-yard improvement from 2016 and the first time since 2007 that average was under 20.

A quick look at each position on the CU special teams:

Kickers: As a freshman last year, James Stefanou was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award. Missed three of his last four, but was 16-for-18 before that and believes he has gotten better this offseason. Davis Price had a great year kicking off and has experience with field goals (4-for-6 in 2016) if needed.

Punters: Alex Kinney keeps getting better and had his best year in 2017. He's a master at pinning the opponent deep, but also has a strong leg (15 punts of 50-plus yards last year) to get the Buffs out of tough field position.

Returners: Cornerback Ronnie Blackmon did a nice job last year as the top kick returner and punt returner. He figures to play a bigger role on defense, so the Buffs might use others at times. Receiver Jay MacIntyre has plenty of experience returning punts, while K.D. Nixon, Donovan Lee and other have kick return experience.

Snapshot: CU special teams

Five to watch

SNAP J.T. Bale, Jr.: Has handled all 263 snaps for punters and kickers the past two years combined. Named preseason 2nd-team all-America by Phil Steele.

RET Ronnie Blackmon, So.: Led the team in punt returns and kickoff returns last year and figures to be a prominent player in that role again.

P Alex Kinney, Sr.: Enters his fourth year as the Buffs' punter. He was one of the nation's best the last half of 2017.

KR K.D. Nixon, So.: His 23.7-yard per return average led the team last year.

PK James Stefanou, So.: Had a good season in 2017 (17-for-22 on field goals), but hoping for better this year.

2017 Statistics

Rankings Avg. Pac-12 National

Field goal % 77.3 5 51

Net punting 40.0 3 23

Kickoff returns 21.7 6 47

Kickoff return def. 19.9 4 47

Punt returns 10.5 3 23

Punt return def. 5.0 3 32

Top returning individuals

Kicking

James Stefanou: 17-for-22 on field goals (53 long); 35-for-35 on PAT

Punting

Alex Kinney: 56 for 2,451 yards; 43.77 gross; 41.7 net

Kickoff returns

Ronnie Blackmon: 15 for 315 yards (21.0 average)

K.D. Nixon: 11 for 261 yards (23.7 average)

Punt returns

Ronnie Blackmon: 12 for 95 yards (8.0 average)

Numbers to know

14 — CU punts or kicks blocked by the opponent in the past three years. The Buffs had a total of two blocked in the three years (2012-14) before this recent stretch.

24.5 — Kickoff return average for Donovan Lee in 2015. It's the best average by CU's primary returner over the last five years. Lee, a senior this year, has not returned a kick since 2015, however.

28 — Punts by Alex Kinney that pinned the opponent inside its 20-yard last year. That's a single-season CU record and represented half of Kinney's punts.

29 — Special teams points accumulated by Beau Bisharat last year - tied for the ninth-best single season total since CU began tracking that stat in 1987.

40 — Touchbacks by kickoff specialist Davis Price last season. The Buffs ranked 23rd nationally with touchbacks on 61.5 percent of their kickoffs.

Projected depth chart

Pos. First team Second team

PK James Stefanou, So., 6-1, 195 Davis Price, Jr., 6-2, 195

P Alex Kinney, Sr., 6-1, 195 Price

HOLD Kinney Josh Goldin, So, 6-2, 220

SNAP J.T. Bale, Jr., 6-2, 210 Nate Landman, So., 6-3, 220

KOR K.D. Nixon, So., 5-8, 185 Ronnie Blackmon, So., 5-10, 180

PR Blackmon Jay MacIntyre, Sr., 5-10, 185

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33