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CU position preview: Kicking game a strength for Buffs

Alex Kinney returns from broken collarbone

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Senior Davis Price is one of several experienced players in the Buffs’ kicking game. Price has experience as kickoff specialist, punter and placekicker.

Using four different field goal kickers and two punters wasn’t exactly what the Colorado football team had in mind for the 2018 season.

Despite dealing with injuries, the Buffaloes were actually solid in the kicking game a year ago. This year, they could be even better.

Leading up to fall camp, which starts Aug. 1, BuffZone.com is previewing each position group for the Buffs. In this installment, the focus is on the special teams.

“The good thing is, our punter is back, our kicker is back, our kickoff guy is back, our holder is back and our snapper is back,” CU linebackers coach/special teams coordinator Ross Els said. “That really helps.”

Placekicker James Stefanou went into last season banged up, missed four games and was never really healthy until the final two games.

Now a junior, Stefanou comes into this year hoping to regain the form that made him a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award in 2017. In his career, he is 22-for-30 on field goals and a perfect 65-for-65 on extra points. He battled through pain to go 5-for-8 on field goals last year.

“I went out there and played (last year), but I look forward to being healthy this year,” he said during the spring, adding that he feels his technique, form and mechanics are better.

A pair of true freshmen – Tyler Francis and Evan Price – filled in for Stefanou when he was out last year and they performed well, going a combined 6-for-7 on field goals and 10-for-10 on extra points. Even better, both maintained their redshirt by playing in just two games each.

A tougher loss last year may have been Alex Kinney. A senior who had handled every CU punt since the start of the 2015 season, Kinney broke his collarbone during a Week 2 game at Nebraska. He missed eight games and returned for the final two. Because he played in only four games, Kinney was allowed to use his redshirt year and return for a fifth season.

Davis Price filled in admirably for Kinney, but averaged 3.5 fewer yards per punt. Price did, however, land 20 of his 48 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. In addition, Price has spent the past two years as the kickoff specialist and also has experience with field goals, making him the ultimate utility player for the kicking unit.

Kinney also returns as the holder for place kicks, while senior J.T. Bale returns as snapper. He has snapped the ball for every punt, field goal and extra point over the last three years.

Given the experience of Bale, Kinney, Davis Price and Stefanou, the Buffs have one of the most seasoned and talented special teams units in the Pac-12. Kinney and Stefanou highlight the group and have all-conference potential, but overall, this is a group that should be a strength for the Buffaloes this season.

Position: Special teams

Returners (2018 statistics)

J.T. Bale, Sr., 6-2, 215 (Has handled every short and long snap the past three years)

Tyler Francis, Fr., 5-11, 170 (Walk-on; redshirted; 2-for-2 FGs, 5-for-5 PAT)

Alex Kinney, Sr., 6-1, 205 (Redshirted; 41.9 average on 16 punts)

Davis Price, Sr., 6-2, 205 (38.4 average on 48 punts; 0-for-1 FG; handled all 60 kickoffs)

Evan Price, Fr., 6-1, 180 (Walk-on; redshirted; 4-for-5 FGs, 5-for-5 PAT)

James Stefanou, Jr., 6-1, 190 (5-for-8 FGs, 30-for-30 PAT)

Additions

James Townsend , Fr., 6-0, 215 (Redshirted in 2018; snapper)

Losses

Seren Hughes-Ford (Walk-on punter; transferred to Coffeyville C.C.)

Bailey Landwehr (Walk-on punter; graduated)

Sam Loy (Walk-on punter; transferred to Arkansas)

2019 outlook: Around the Pac-12, there might be a couple individual punters or kickers better than CU’s, but the Buffaloes have one of the most experienced special teams units around. Stefanou had a great freshman season in 2017 and feels even better and stronger this year. Before his injury last year, Kinney was showing annual improvement at punter and comes into his final year looking to make it his best. Davis Price figures to handle kickoffs for the third year in a row – although Stefanou hopes for a chance to win that job. Bale has been a steady snapper his entire career. With a new coaching staff, Evan Price and Francis are sure to get their fair shot at earning playing time, as well. The return game will be sorted out during fall camp. Last year’s top punt and kickoff returner, Ronnie Blackmon, has transferred, leaving both jobs wide open. Receiver KD Nixon (20.5 average on six kickoff returns) is back, but several players will get opportunities to compete.