2019 Fall Camp Preview: Specialists
It’s a bit of a cliche, the punter being the best player on a bad team, but that was indeed the case with Brandon Wright in 2018. He was named a Ray Guy Award semifinalist for his 48.2 yard average punt distance, pinning 22 of his 51 punts inside the 20 and sending 24 of them more than 50 yards. Wright has since been named to the 2019 preseason watch list for the Ray Guy this season – though Panther fans hope he isn’t the best player again this season.
On the kicking side, Brandon Wright has handled the place-kicking duties with mixed success. After kicking a disastrous 12 of 23 on field goals in 2017, Wright improved to 7 of 11 in 2018 – though those numbers tell a story. As any expert mathematician can tell you, 11 is less than 23. Coach Elliott simply called on Brandon to attempt fewer field goals – significantly fewer. After the team went for it on 4th down just 14 times in 2017, the number doubled to 28 in 2018. Brandon Wright is going to start off the year as the starter at kicker – because he’s shown improvement and he’s earned that chance as a solid four-year contributor – but time will tell how aggressive the Panthers play it on 4th downs this season and how short a leash Wright has with the job.
The return game presents the biggest opportunity for improvement in the special units. The Panthers’ return unit often made use of a new rule that allowed you to start on the 25-yard-line after the kickoff – provided you called a fair catch inside the 25-yard-line. This zapped the potential of this unit to do much damage (averaging just over 20 ypa on 30 returns) and neutralized the speed of guys like Penny Hart and Tra Barnett. With a new special teams coordinator, following Rusty Wright’s hiring as UT-Chattanooga’s head coach, a major talking point will be about if this philosophy on kick returns stays or goes.
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