Scouting the ACC's special teams

April, 7, 2009
4/07/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Coaches often emphasize it, but the casual football fan often underestimates it -- the importance of special teams. It was a phase of the game Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson agonized over last season and resolved to fix, starting this spring. It was also a priority of UNC coach Butch Davis this spring.

Considering the numerous specialists who have graduated, it's an area of concern for several teams across the conference this spring. The biggest names gone from a year ago are: FSU's Graham Gano and Michael Ray Garvin, UNC's Brandon Tate, Wake's Sam Swank, and Virginia Tech's Dustin Keys.

Here's a quick breakdown of the top specialists returning from a year ago:

PLACEKICKERS

Matt Bosher, Miami -- He is a frontrunner for this year's Lou Groza Award, as Bosher is the leading returning placekicker in the nation in field goal percentage. He made 18 of his 20 attempts last year and was a semifinalist for the award.

Josh Czajkowski, NC State -- He made 16 of 19 field goals last year (84.2 percent), his longest being 42 yards.

PUNTERS

Travis Baltz, Maryland -- He led the ACC with a 41.1 yard average and had 24 land inside the 20-yard line with 18 result in a fair catch. Baltz ranked 43rd in the NCAA.

Bosher -- His double duty included a 40.3 yard average with 19 inside the 20, and he led the ACC with 24 that resulted in a fair catch.

Brent Bowden, Virginia Tech -- His longest was 57 yards, and he averaged 40.4 yards per punt. He'll be a senior this year.

Kevin Jones, Duke -- In his second season as a starter, Jones led all ACC punters in pinning opponents deep inside their own territory. At least 27 of his punts landed inside the 20-yard line, and he ranked second in the conference in punting with a 40.8 average. Duke allowed only 5.7 yards per punt.

KICK RETURNER/SPECIALIST

Torrey Smith, Maryland -- Smith set an ACC single-season record last year for kickoff return yardage, with 41 returns for a total of 1,089 yards. He broke the record during Maryland's bowl game when he returned one 99 yards for a touchdown against Nevada in the Humanitarian Bowl.

Travis Benjamin, Miami -- He was an exciting player to watch and led the ACC in punt returns with 11.3 yards per return. His longest was an ACC-best 44 yards. He averaged 22.5 yards on kickoff returns.

Bruce Carter, UNC -- The Tar Heels' third-leading returning tackler made a name for himself last year when he blocked an ACC-record four consecutive punts. The first three came against then-ranked No. 25 Connecticut and the fourth came against Miami.

T.J. Graham, NC State -- He came close to setting an ACC record in kickoff return yardage, as his 974 yards on 41 returns was the third-best single-season total in ACC history. He also ran one back 100 yards for a touchdown.

Dyrell Roberts, Virginia Tech -- He finished fifth in the ACC in kickoff returns as a freshman, with an average of 24.8 yards.

C.J. Spiller, Clemson -- He racked up an ACC-high 1,170 all-purpose yards, helping the Tigers on both punt and kickoff returns.

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