The Times Free Press has been taking a daily positional look at the 2017 University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team, leading up to the first practice today. Today we look at the final group — special teams:
Sophomore Colin Brewer finished fifth in the Southern Conference in punting last season, averaging 40.6 yards on 41 with a long of 60 yards. He'll still punt, but the Mocs must replace three-year starting kicker Henrique Ribeiro, the school's all-time leader in points, extra points and field goals made. Richardre Bagley is the team's lone kick returner who is back this season — he averaged 16.3 yards on 10 returns in 2016 — as the program replaces Xavier Borishade and C.J. Board (who signed with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent), the team's primary returners the past two seasons. There are talented, elusive players who are capable — Dy'Kari Hickey, Chris Miller, Alex Trotter and Trevor Wright for starters — but only Wright has returned a kick in a game before. Somebody will have to step up, and somebody will.
The biggest question entering the spring, albeit a less sexy one, is who will replace Ribeiro. Redshirt freshman Victor Ulmo and incoming freshman Jacob Bailey will be in a battle over the next month for that spot. With the holes at the returner position, the chance to get on the field could be there for a new player. Arizona State transfer and defensive back Kareem Orr was a playmaker at Notre Dame High School and could be a player to watch.
Even though he's just a sophomore, Brewer had a season to get acclimated to the college game and performed well throughout the season. Emory Norred has played 40 games at long snapper, tied with safety Lucas Webb for most experienced returning player on the team. There are no shortage of options to return kicks; the coaching staff will just have to wade through the possibilities to find the best.
The biggest weakness on the team is experience at kicker; neither Ulmo nor Bailey have attempted a kick in a college game. Only two players — Bagley and Wright — have been options as kick returners in college, so while there are a lot of options based on potential talent, there's no experience at the position.
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