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A Look Into Pitt Special Teams As Summer Camp Begins

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Pitt kicker Ben Sauls

The special teams unit of any individual team is often overlooked, but Pitt should have one of the better special teams units not just in the ACC but around the country.

And that’s pretty surprising given Pitt’s struggles at punter last season, huh?

But Pitt does have an excellent kicker, an explosive punt returner and a very, very reliable long snapper. If the punting situation can be rectified, the unit will be a strength for sure in the 2023 season.

So, let’s take a look at the special teams unit.

Pitt returns perhaps the best kicker in the ACC in Ben Sauls, who after a slow start in the 2022 season, rounded into shape as one of Pitt’s most important players. And he showed it against UCLA.

When Pitt called on Ben Sauls five times against UCLA in the Sun Bowl, he was ready.

Sauls connected on all five of his field goal attempts — and both point-after attempts — to score a career-high 17 points. He nailed field goal attempts from 22, 49, 31, 27 and a game-winning 47-yarder with four seconds left.

Sauls connected on 20-of-24 field goal attempts (83%) in 2022, and he nailed all 47 of his point-after attempts. All of which came in addition to his duties as Pitt’s starting kickoff specialist. He also earned a spot on the preseason Groza Award list, given to the best kicker in the country.

Sauls was excellent last season, but the same could not be said for the punting situation.

Sam Vander Haar, who was the starting, scholarship punter entering the season, left the program via the transfer portal in the spring. And there’s been a competition between Caleb Junko and Elon transfer Jeff Yurk through the spring.

Junko, in just 12 attempts last season, averaged a very strong 48.7 yards per attempt. He also pinned the opponent inside the 20 four times and booted the ball 50 yards or more three times. It carried over in the spring as he booted a 70-yarder in practice.

And he’s joined by Yurk, a mid-year arrival from Elon, who set a program record by averaging 44.1 yards per punt (53 attempts) last season. He was an All-CAA and Sophomore All-American punter.

I thought both performed well in the spring, but Junko was excellent. And I’d have to imagine he holds the advantage as summer camp rolls around.

Pittsburgh Panthers defensive back M.J. Devonshire (12) September 24, 2022 David Hague/PSN

M.J. Devonshire was a difference maker with the football in his hands last season, and he showed it with 233 yards (9.7 yards per return) and a touchdown in 24 punt returns.

With excellent vision and explosive speed when carrying the ball, as shown by two additional interceptions returned for touchdowns, Devonshire — if he’s able to focus on staying away from too much lateral movement — should be a weapon in the return game in 2023.

It remains to be seen exactly who will be returning kickoffs for Pitt next season, as the role has gotten smaller and smaller over the seasons, but there are a few options in C’Bo Flemister, Rodney Hammond Jr. and Che Nwabuko.

Possible 2023 Special Teams Depth Chart 

K — Ben Sauls — Sam Carpenter

P — Caleb Junko — Jeff Yurk

LS — Byron Floyd — James Fineran

KR — M.J. Devonshire — Konata Mumpfield OR Che Nwabuko

PR — C’Bo Flemister — Rodney Hammond Jr.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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alcofan
alcofan
10 months ago

And the lines are ?

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