New assistant coach Jay Boulware has taken over as special teams coordinator for the Sooners this spring in addition to coaching the tight ends. His most recent special teams tutelage was at Auburn. The Tigers’ punt coverage unit ranked second nationally, allowing four return yards on 70 punts. You read that right: F-O-U-R yards. Auburn’s opponents only returned 5 of those 70 kicks.
The Tigers averaged 8.9 yards per punt return last year, far less than OU’s 14.3 in 2012. Auburn was third nationally in kickoff coverage, yielding 16.6 per return. The Sooners gave up 18.8 per return last year, but had a better return average than the Tigers (25.8-22.4).
So, what does the new coach have to work with at OU this spring? He's breaking in a new punter. That’s it. Everybody with some experience returns.
Punter Tress Way has graduated. He was solid for the Sooners with averages the last four years of 45.7, 44.0, 42.0 and 44.2 yards per attempt. His career average was 44 yards even.
The odds-on favorite to replace Way is Jed Barnett (6-2, 215, Jr.), a JUCO transfer from Laney College in Oakland. He averaged 41.6 yards per kick in 2012. Dylan Seibert (6-3, 220, Soph.) and Jack Steed (6-5, 214, rFr.) will be Barnett’s challengers in the spring.
Michael Hunnicutt (6-1, 169, Jr.) returns as the placekicker. Hunnicutt has nailed 84 percent of his field goals and 97 percent of PATs over the past two years. He will vie for the kickoff duties, too, as Patrick O’Hara has graduated.
There has been no talk of changes in the return game. Running backs Brennan Clay (5-7, 197, Sr.) and Roy Finch (5-7, 167, Sr.) will again return kickoffs this year. Clay had 20 returns for a 25.4-yard average, but none was returned for a score. Finch returned 12 kickoffs for a 31-yard average ,and he had a 100-yarder against Kansas for his lone touchdown.
Fielding punts, wide receiver Jalen Saunders (5-9, 160, Sr.) split time with Justin Brown after sitting out the first four games of the season. Saunders returned just five punts for an average of 17.6 yards, but he electrified Sooner fans with an 81-yard return against OSU for his only TD as a returner.
Austin Woods (6-4, 310, Sr.) is back, and he has been the deep snapper for placements the past two years. Since Daniel Franklin has graduated, Woods may end up snapping on punts as well.