Wednesday, August 8, 2007


It’s an area that’s often overlooked in football – a place where the backups flood the field to see their only playing time – but special teams has never been overlooked at Fresno State. The Bulldogs were among the nation’s best under assistant John Baxter ever since he came to Fresno with Pat Hill 10 years ago.

But something went awry last year, and the Bulldogs went from the nation’s best kick coverage team to one of the worst. That’s got to change this season, with field position being more important than ever to help an offense that needs to build confidence.

At least dependable kick returners are available. Clifton Smith is one of the nation’s most electrifying return men and is finally back at 100% after his injury in Eugene in 2005. He tried to come back too soon from injury last year and averaged just 7.3 yards per punt return and had no touchdowns. But in 2004 he returned his first-ever attempt for a touchdown, and then had two touchdown returns in three attempts in the 2005 opener before being injured.

Chastin West doesn’t have the agility of Smith, but he wastes no time catching the ball and heading straight up field. He averaged 22 yards per attempt last year, including a 93-yard touchdown return. Others to watch for are Sharrod Davis, who returned kicks as a freshman at Oregon before transferring to a JC and then Fresno State, and true freshman Devon Wylie, who has 4.4 speed.

The kicking game is a little tough to figure out. Senior Clint Stitser (6-1, 200) likely has the strongest leg in school history, but had a long of only 43 yards last year, making 11 of 16 attempts. He’s capable of a far better percentage than that, and has to erase his PAT problems (he missed two last season). Potentially, he should be the WAC’s best kicker, and that’s the expectation for his senior season.

With Mike Lingua injured all of last season, freshman Robert Malone (6-2, 215) took over (only to get injured himself). Senior Kyle Zimmerman (5-11, 200), who’s natural position is placekicker, took the reigns and averaged 36.8 yards per punt. The problem is he forced just 11 fair catches in 42 attempts and pinned just 14 inside the 20. Malone had 20 attempts last year, and is a capable starter as well. He’ll be the punter of the future.

Assuming backup kicking duties is redshirt freshman walk-on Dustin Abrams (6-0, 170). But true freshman Kevin Goessling (5-10, 165) was on of the state’s top kickers out of high school, and will be groomed as Stitser’s eventual replacement.

Rating: 7 of 10

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