BYU’s special teams were pretty solid during the 2016 season, which bodes well for the 2017 season as the major names of this group are returning, and hopefully will continue their performance from last season.
According to the media day depth chart released, Rhett Almond will be place kicker, punter Jonny Linehan, long snapper Matt Foley, and the kick returner should be Aleva Hifo and Matt Hadley, while Micah Hanneman should be handling the punt returns.
The BYU kicking game seemed a bit shaky with Almond missing a chip shot in the first game against Arizona and being pulled in favor of freshman Jake Oldroyd, who kicked the game winner. An injury to Oldroyd led to Almond becoming the primary kicker again, and he rewarded BYU by hitting 17-21 field goals and 39-40 PATs. Back up Andrew Mikkelson missed his only kick, which was a 40+ yard attempt.
The punt game has been pretty good for the last two seasons with former rugby star Jonny Linehan at the helm. He has played fairly well despite never having played football before his junior year of college. He has kicked the ball deep when he’s had to and also shown an ability to be accurate in his kicks. His longest kick was 62 yards, and he also pinned the opponent inside their 20 yard line 30 times.
Although he cannot let anyone following him on Twitter forget that he did not like running the ball on 4th and 17 near the goal line against Boise State, he has been a solid punter and an entertaining follow on Twitter.
Arguably, the long snapper might be the most important piece of the special teams unit. Ironically, it might be one of the most anonymous positions on the football field. Foley, despite the anonymity, has performed admirably, actually perfectly, in the two years he has been the long snapper. He has not recorded a bad snap during any game that he has played at BYU. When you play a position where no one really knows your name unless you have messed up your job, and those that do probably only know because you have a giant tattoo on your arm dedicated to your position, there is a ton of pressure that comes every time you step on the field. Hopefully, Foley continues his excellent play and anchors the special teams unit to success.
The returners are mostly returning with the only exception of note being Garrett Juergens. In his stead as the punt returner, Micah Hanneman will field punts and will hope to build on his three returned kicks from last year. We could also see Jonah Trinnaman or Trey Dye return some punts this year. Seeing Dye fielding punts will undoubtedly bring back memories for some BYU fans as the father of Trey Dye, James, was an exciting punt returner in his career at BYU.
The kick returners are both returning in Matt Hadley and Aleva Hifo. Hifo returned the most kicks last year, and had a long of 50 yards. Hadley had a 41-yard return despite only returning 7 kicks.
Hopefully, the BYU special teams play remains as good as it was last year. Special teams is a huge momentum changer with a big play or a mistake. A muffed punt or bad snap in a close game can entirely change the outcome of that game. With this group’s history, hopefully the Cougars will be on the receiving end of some big special team plays this year.