Last season, UCLA Special Teams were one of the best in the country . Then ST coach, Jeff Ublrich made the Bruins deadly on a squad that did not include Brett Hundley or Myles Jack. For the up-coming year, Ulbrich has been promoted to Defensive Coordinator and handed over special teams duties to new hire, Mike Tuiasosopo, who is still getting familiar with his new position. But it is not like he will be kept in the dark. Tuiasosopo and Ulbrich will be around each other a lot as added duties have the former working with outside linebackers and the latter with inside linebackers.
As far as the individual efforts on Special Teams, UCLA is returning all of the players that had specific roles. The only thing that might change is the shuffling of kick and punt returners, but kicking and long snaps should be consistent from last year.
Here is the GJB projected depth chart for the UCLA Special Teams:
|Kicker||Punter||Kick Returner||Punt Returner||Long Snapper|
|Ka’imi Fairbairn||Sean Covington||Ishmael Adams||Randall Goforth||Christopher Longo|
|Adam Searl||Steven Manfro||Darren Andrews||Peter Hajimihalis|
Can You Kick It?
Ka’imi Fairbairn has not had a lot to do when he has the high-powered UCLA offense scoring more often than not, but that does not mean his services are rendered pointless. In points after touchdown, Fairbairn made 59 of 60 attempts. As for field goals, he made 14 of 21 (66.7%, with a long of 48 yards) putting UCLA last among all Pac-12 schools. Now that is not so bad considering that Fairbairn will be used when Hundley and Co. cannot make it into the end zone, but in tough situations which will arise as the season progresses, the Bruin’s points off kicks will have to be more solid.
As far as punting goes, Sean Covington can be a star in the making. Last year, he netted 1,830 yards, averaging 42.6 yards per punt (with a long of 67 yards) making him the fourth best punter in the Pac-12. If by chance, UCLA does get caught in their own side of the field, they should have no problem with Covington clearing space. Also, look for Covington to get some award recognition for his services this year as he should be one of the best punters in the nation. Adam Searl has not seen anytime on the field.
The Long (Snapper) Game
The only issue with having two players at the same position in the same class is that one will not get as many nods as the other. That seems to be the case again this season as redshirt juniors Christopher Longo and Peter Hajimihalis will be battling for the long snapper position. As of now, Longo is the one with experience as he played/was available in every game last season. Hajimihalis has not yet seen time on the field.
Late last season, with injuries effecting the Bruins, Ishmael Adams stepped up and had himself quite a few exceptional runs toward the end of the year. In ten returns, Adams gained 350 yards for an average of 35.0, which included a 69-yard return. No problems here. Adams was like a rocket every time he caught the ball on kick-offs and had some amazing returns in the last two games against USC and Virginia Tech. Behind him is running back Steven Manfro who had the majority of returns before he got injured during the season. Although, Adams took over, it will be good to have Manfro who averaged 24.8 yards per return with a team long of 70 yards.
The punt return game, as always, is a mixed bag. Proper coverage by the opposition never really gets a lot of yards and for the Bruins, they were 7th among all Pac-12 teams with 8.9 yards per return. Randall Goforth and Darren Andrews heard their name called for the majority of those plays, but this season there seems to be a few more speedsters on the team that could take over if the fit is right.
Lastly, can someone please get a touchdown on one of these returns?
You Got Blocked!
The Bruins have also showed their claws on the defensive side of Special Teams as UCLA was tied for fifth in the country with 2 blocked punts and tied for fourth with 4 blocked kicks. One of those blocked punts went back for a UCLA touchdown against Nevada, so yes, it is safe to say that the Bruins do not take any down lightly, even ones that do not have their highly-touted offensive or defensive units on the field. Overall, because the Special Teams are in good shape, it should be exciting to see the Bruins every single time they are on the field. Now that is coaching!
To finish, here is the Special Teams roster for your Bruins in 2014-15:
|Sean Covington||P||27||6'0"||218 lbs.||So.|
|Ka'imi Fairbairn||K||15||6'0"||190 lbs.||Jr.|
|Peter Hajimihalis||LS||45||5'6"||185 lbs.||R-Jr.|
|Christopher Longo||LS||59||6'3"||210 lbs.||R-Jr.|
|Adam Searl||P||39||6'0"||180 lbs.||R-Fr.|