First-year coach Barry Odom is taking the reins on special teams, because it was, quite frankly, a train wreck for Missouri last season in some respects.
The Tigers ranked 100th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in punt returns last season, averaging a meager 5.85 yards.
That includes a quirky 41-yard touchdown by Aarion Penton on a partially blocked punt, or the average would have been 4.5 yards and ranked 13th in the Southeastern Conference.
Mizzou’s kickoff returns were even worse.
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Not only did the Tigers’ 15.1-yard average bring up the rear in the SEC, it ranked dead last among 128 FBS teams — and by more than 1.5 yards.
Buffalo, which ranked 127th, averaged 16.6 yards per kickoff return.
Looking for a way to help a flagging offense? Find a way to make sure it doesn’t have an interminable march to scoring territory every single time it takes the field is a good place to start.
Here’s a rundown of Missouri’s roster of specialists ahead of fall camp:
Returning starters: P Corey Fatony, sophomore; LS Jake Hurrell, senior.
Other returning contributors: PR Aarion Penton, senior; KR Anthony Sherrils, junior.
Newcomers: RS Chris Black, senior; K Tucker McCann, freshman; RS Alex Ross, senior.
Projected 2016 starters: P — Fatony; K — McCann; KR — Ross; PR — Penton; LS — Hurrell.
Outlook: Sophomore Corey Fatony is locked into the punter’s job barring injury. He averaged 42.9 yards per punt last season, which ranked 37th in the country and was tops among all Football Bowl Subdivision freshmen. Go ahead and book that.
Freshman kicker Tucker McCann wasn’t signed to a scholarship for any purpose other than to come and replace Andrew Baggett, a Lee’s Summit North graduate, as the Tigers’ kicker. Barring an injury, pencil that in too.
Many MU fans aren’t familiar with senior Jake Hurrell. He’s a three-year starter and has appeared in all 40 games during the last three seasons, but anonymity is fine for a long snapper. Hurrell has been something of an unsung hero, his work often going unnoticed because he’s so steady and reliable. Why fix something that ain’t never been broken?
The interesting aspect of special teams comes in the return game: Oklahoma graduate-student transfer Alex Ross might be Mizzou’s starting tailback. He also most by the best kicker returner on the roster. Junior safety Anthony Sherrils (and his world-class speed) also will get a look once again, but it might be Ross’ job to lose after averaging 25.7 yards with two touchdowns on 53 kickoff returns during the last two seasons for the Sooners.
Senior Aarion Penton was the Tigers’ starting punt returner last season, but there’s room to improve that unit. Alabama graduate-student transfer Chris Black might overtake Penton for the punt-return duties, but his injury history also might give MU’s staff pause, assuming he’s a critical piece on offense. The same could be said of Penton, who also starts at cornerback and is a key piece of MU’s defense. Penton seemed capable of handling the workload last season, so it’s reasonable to assume he could again. He led Mizzou last season with 15 returns and a 7.7 average, including a touchdown.