B1G Football Preview: Michigan State Part 3 Special Teams
Coordinator: Mike Tressel (Primary)
Michael Geiger is the best in the B1G. He is automatic and with the strength gained this off season, he will be asked to move his range back and become a bigger threat. Geiger did everything asked of him last season. He took over as the main kicker in the Iowa game making four out of five and didn’t miss the rest of the season. Although more the size of a smurf than a football player, he is GIANT on the gridiron. He has no fear and has worked hard to get strong this off season. His long field goal last year was 49 yards and they would like to see him extend that three or four more. He is a weapon having made 36 of 38 extra points.
Mike Sadler is simply the best in the nation. Not only a great football player, but a fine young man. He is working on a master’s program while leading the Spartans as one of their best weapons. He drops punts inside the red zone with pin point accuracy. Dantonio is fond of saying, “The punt is the most important play in the game of football.” I totally agree. Coach wants his punter to have a +39 on each punt. Sadler had an amazing 42.5 last year with a hang time that would make several NFL punters jealous. He is the real deal. Not just the best in the B1G, he is the best in the country and a superb young man.
This is the most underrated position in football and the Spartans have two of them that are very good.
Taybor Pepper is among the elite in the nation. His time in getting the ball from the snap to the punter’s hands looks more like a major league baseball. To put it in simple terms, Pepper is the Justin Verlander of speed when delivering the ball from point A to point B. Prompting Sadler to tell me last year, “You have to pay close attention because Taybor just has it there. He does a great job.” The most underrated part of Pepper’s game is that he is fearless. He gets down the field to have an impact on the defending of the punt. He doesn’t always get the tackle, which is nearly impossible to do from his position getting plummeted every snap, but he is always there and accounted for. Most long snappers aren’t even accounted for and he makes the opposing team pay attention. I’ve had two of my NFL friends tell me that they have him at either the third or fourth best long snappers in college football.
Leland Ewing is a young man that on most teams would be playing. He actually delivers a better ball to the punter, but not as fast as Pepper and that is the reason Pepper gets the nod ahead of him. He is a good snapper. If he could improve the speed in which he delivers the ball he could compete for reps. You need to understand he isn’t slow at it; it is that Pepper is incredibly fast.
Macgarrett Kings is the Spartans returning threat here. He averaged over 10 yards a return last year which is very solid. The issues with Kings were discussed in the offense preview, but they are relevant here as well. He needs to grow up. He can’t be happy being good, when God has given him the talent to be great. If he doesn’t play in the NFL one day it will be 100% his fault. He has been given every shot by this staff and now he needs to step up and take advantage of them. The questions on Kings have nothing to do with football. I like him and want to see him be great. I believe he can, but he has to believe that and do it.
R.J. Shelton is the Spartans primary kick returner and he returns for yet another season. He is Keshawn Martin 2.0 and I love every part of this kid’s game. When Martin was here, Dantonio mandated, “Find a way to get the ball in his hands,” when he felt the staff needed to do more with him. Well, he is in the NFL now and Shelton possesses those same qualities. He will take one to the house; it isn’t a matter of if, but when.
The Spartans special team will be a major strength this year. If Geiger can simply maintain and add three more yards to his weaponry of distance he can go from the best place kicker in the Big Ten to the best in the country. Sadler already is the best and he needs more from his coverage. Pepper is elite as well, but can’t make every tackle. I want to see Kings go from good to great and with Shelton I want to see who they pair him with. All in all, I am calling for the Spartans who were 30th in special teams last year to move into the top 20!