Special teams set to kick off

By Tony McDaniel

Saluki football’s offense and defense will have new coordinators this season, and the story is very much the same for special teams.

Coach Keith Murphy will take over the special teams along with the tight ends. This is Murphy’s first year with the Dawgs and he said he is pleased with what he has seen so far.

“I’m very encouraged; public perception and staff perception have been very good on the special teams,” he said. “A good foundation was already set, so I’m just excited to get these guys playing a little bit faster, a little bit smarter and continue to grow.”

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Murphy brings an impressive resume with him to Carbondale.

He worked with Eastern Washington University’s special teams for eight seasons until 2007 when he joined the St. Louis Rams for the 2007-2008 campaign as an assistant special teams coach.

From 2008-2013, Murphy oversaw special teams and tight ends at New Mexico State University. In 2011, he coached Aggie kick returner Taveon Rogers to an All-American season.  Murphy also coached New Mexico State’s current punter Cayle Chapman-Brown to an All-WAC selection last season.

Murphy’s coaching expertise will come in handy this season since the Salukis will have to replace last year’s punter Austin Pucylowski who took 54 punts last season for the Dawgs.

The Salukis have two punters on their roster, redshirt freshman Nick Neidig and junior Colin Bultinck who transferred to SIU from Division III Heidelberg University.

“Both of them have their strengths,” Murphy said. “Colin’s is his hang time, Nick’s is distance, and they both have decent direction.”

At kicker, the Salukis bring back three players who contributed in 2013.

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Seniors Thomas Kinney and Chris Adams will return this season along with sophomore Austin Johnson.  Kinney handled most of the field goals last season, while Adams split the kickoff duties with Kinney.  Johnson was 22 of 23 on point after attempts last season.

Kinney said he likes the challenge the other two kickers present him with this spring.

“It’s great competition,” he said. “We’re a good set of kickers. Our second string and third string is just as close to fighting for the first spot as I am.”

The Dawgs will hope to build off of last year’s performances with the competition between kickers this spring.

“All three kickers have kicked for us in the past, we’re open competition,” Murphy said. “We were good on special teams last year, but we want to be better… The 75 percent field goal from last year which is a top-20 in the nation percentage, how can we get that to 80 to be in the top-10.”

SIU will also bring back two of its top players.

Seniors Tay Willis and LaSteven McKinney combined for 687 yards and a touchdown last season on kick returns.  McKinney handled all but two punt returns last season as well.

Willis is taking reps at running back, wide receiver, punt returner and kick returner this spring.

“I’m doing anything I can to possibly help,” Willis said. “I like it, I feel like they can trust me to do different things.”

Murphy said a part from his two incumbent returns, he is hoping to develop another one sometime this season.

“The fullbacks and bigger running backs, we don’t want to count those guys out,” he said. “Those guys would give me problems [when I played] in making a tackle downfield in open space.”

Murphy said the 3-4 defense head coach Dale Lennon runs is beneficial to him when it comes to selecting a team of blockers for his returners.

“Dealing with a 3-4 defense is exciting for me because you have more special teams’ bodies,” he said. “There are four positions of linebackers and defensive ends that can run… Guys that can run and be physical are encouraging.”

The Salukis will have their first chance at live action at 7 p.m. Friday when the team will hold their final spring scrimmage, the maroon and white game.

Tony McDaniel can be reached at [email protected], @tonymcdanielDE or at 536-3311 ext. 282

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