AMES — Iowa State special teams are undergoing a complete overhaul.
The Cyclones lost kicker Garrett Owens, punter Colin Downing and punt returner Trever Ryen to graduation. They’ll also be changing kick returners.
Iowa State has two of the four major special-teams positions figured out already. Junior college transfer and Australia native Corey Dunn will be the punter.
Dunn came to Ames heralded for his punting abilities and was namd to the Ray Guy award watch list for the nation’s best punter. He grew up playing Australian rules football, which involves a lot of punt-like kicks to advance the ball down field. What’s really special about Dunn is he can actually punt with both legs because of his experience playing Australian rules football.
There is a difference, however between kicking the ball for Australian rules football and punting. In Australian rules football, players often take 10 or more steps before they kick. He’s having to learn the one step, two step and kick approach.
He said it’s going well, but it is an adjustment. One thing that won’t be an adjustment for him, however, is the rugby-style punt that’s becoming more and more popular in college football. Dunn said he will use that style situationally, and to keep teams off balance, he said he could run either way and use either foot.
The other known commodity for the Cyclones’ special teams unit is kick returner Kene Nwangwu. Nwangwu missed last season with a torn Achilles, but he said he’s healthy again and ready to go.
Ask any Iowa State player or coach who Iowa State’s fastest player is and they’ll all say the same name. Nwangwu.
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Nwangwu showed his impressive speed as a true freshman returning kicks for Iowa State. He averaged 26.2 yards per return in 2016, which was the second-best return average in the Big 12 and the 15th best in the nation.
He was honorable mention All-Big 12 according to the coaches and second team All-Big 12 according to ESPN and Athlon.
After the two known commodities, it’s one big question mark.
Iowa State brought in true freshman Brayden Narveson, was the No. 12 kicker recruit in the nation according to 247Sports.
Special teams coach Joe Houston said Narveson has a big leg, which is evident by the 58-yard field goal he hit in high school.
Narveson’s competition is senior Chris Francis. Francis has handled Iowa State’s kickoff duties for the last three seasons.
Houston said he’s a believer in specialization between kickoff and place kicking duties. Colleges are allowed so many roster spots that he said it makes sense to do that since the swing of the kick is slightly different.
But he’s letting Francis compete against Narveson and Houston said it’s a close competition.
At the end of practices, coach Matt Campbell puts them on the 35-yard line for a 45-yard kick and makes them kick three balls. So far, he said they’re dead even.
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Punt returner is even more up in the air than place kicker is. The Cyclones have been trying out six different guys to replace Ryen — receivers Deshaunte Jones and Tarique Milton, cornerbacks Brian Peavy and and D’Andre Payne and safety Lawrence White.
Special teams are often overlooked, but Campbell is a big believer in it. He’s not afraid to put some of his best position players out to return a punt or a kick — Allen Lazard split time with Ryen last year as a punt returner depending on the situation.
A coffin-corner punt or a bad return decision can change the tide of a game, so it’s important for Iowa State to not take special teams for granted.
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