A blocked punt helped Colorado turn a close game into a blowout win against Arizona last year.
Later in the season, a 43-yard field goal from Cole Becker gave the Buffaloes an overtime victory against Oregon State.
“That’s the bread and butter right there,” CU senior Anthony Lyle said of special teams. “I think you can make a huge difference. I think special teams is a vital part of the game.”
Head coach Karl Dorrell agrees and the Buffs have put an emphasis on quality special teams in the past two years. According to ESPN’s statistical formula, the Buffs ranked third nationally in 2021 in special teams efficiency.
During the Boulder Chamber luncheon Aug. 19, Dorrell said that while the Buffs have done well in special teams, “Still, that’s not good enough.”
Dorrell added that the Buffs hope to be more aggressive in special teams this year.
“We’re gonna take some risks,” he said. “I want bigger and more consistency in our returns. … Our coverage teams, again, highly ranked in our conference, but I want to be the best because we’ve got to pin people back to make them go the long field.
“Special teams sets the tone.”
Becker is a big part of that because he will be in the spotlight often. The sophomore has one of the best legs in the Pac-12 and made 14 of his last 17 field goal attempts last season.
The Buffs are hoping freshman Ashton Logan can flip the field when they have the punt. And, there is hope that the skill players can make an impact when returning the ball.
The backbone of the special teams, however, is players such as Lyle. He’s a grinder who appears on all the special teams units and ranked third on the team in special teams points (20) last season. He led the team with eight knockdown or springing blocks.
“I take my role very, very seriously and I’m a super competitive person,” said Lyle, a Legacy High School graduate who was awarded a scholarship this season. “Anywhere you put me I want to win in that position. Doesn’t matter if it’s special teams, safety, or running back. I’m gonna give it 110%.”
Receiver Daniel Arias and cornerback Toren Pittman have also been among the Buffs’ best special teams players. Lyle said his pride in special teams is something he hopes to spread to all players, especially freshmen who are looking to get their feet wet in college football.
“Like the coaches always say, it’s a stepping stone,” he said. “I think, personally, being a freshman, a true freshman, you get to feel the speed and the tempo of the game and how it really is. So I think special teams is a great starting point for anybody or even to just play on all teams. I think it’s a great place to be. You work the fundamentals of everything, so it’s a great spot to be.”
A quick look at key positions on the CU special teams
Kickers: Cole Becker overcame a tough start to post an impressive debut season. He made 14-of-20 field goals and all 25 extra points. He also has one of the strongest legs in the Pac-12. Barring injury, Becker will likely handle all of the kicking duties. Walk-on Cristiano Palazzo, a transfer from Oregon, made a good impression in camp, though.
Punters: Josh Watts had two solid seasons with the Buffs, but he has since moved on and the Buffs will hand the punting job to true freshman Ashton Logan. He was rated as one of the nation’s top 10 punters in the 2021 class before grayshirting and arriving in January. He averaged 38 yards on 67 punts in high school. Walk-ons Trent Carrizosa and Noah Hubbard provide depth.
Returners: The primary returners from last year have moved on, but there’s plenty of competition. Receiver Chase Penry is one of the favorites to handle punt return duties. Cornerback Nikko Reed and receiver Maurice Bell have kickoff return experience. Running back Deion Smith could handle returns, as well.
Snappers: Walk-on Derek Bedell has been the Buffs’ long and short-snapper for the past two seasons. Overall, he has snapped the ball 156 times on punts or placekicks without issues. There is also confidence in redshirt freshman Cameron Warchuck.
Projected depth chart
Pos – First team (Second team)
PK – Cole Becker, So., 6-3, 225 (Cristiano Palazzo, Fr., 5-9, 185)
P – Ashton Logan, Fr., 6-2, 195 (Noah Hubbard, Fr,. 6-3, 170)
HOLD – Logan (Mac Willis, So., 6-3, 190)
SNAP – Derek Bedell, So., 6-3, 235 (Cameron Warchuck, Fr., 6-0, 235)
KOR – Nikko Reed, So., 5-10, 175 (Deion Smith, Jr., 6-0, 190)
PR – Chase Penry, So., 6-1, 190 (Reed)
Snapshot: CU special teams
Five to watch
- Cole Becker, So.: Looking to build on an impressive freshman season when he made 14 of his 20 field goals attempts.
- Derek Bedell, So.: His name isn’t heard very much, which is ideal for a snapper. He’s had a very good first two seasons handling the Buffs’ snaps.
- Ashton Logan, Fr.: As a freshman, there could be growing pains, but the Buffs like his potential at punter.
- Chase Penry, So.: Receiver returned three punts last year for 53 yards (17.7 average). Could become the Buffs’ primary returner.
- Nikko Reed, So.: A starter at cornerback, he took his only kickoff return of 2021 back 100 yards for a touchdown. He’s hoping for a bigger role as a returner.
Numbers to know
- 14.2 – Punt return average for the Buffs in two years with head coach Karl Dorrell. The Buffs have 411 yards on 29 returns with two touchdowns.
- 28.71 – CU’s kickoff return average in 2021, setting a school record. The Buffs led the Pac-12 and finish fourth in the country.
- 29 – Number of Cole Becker’s kickoffs (out of 47, 62%) that went for touchbacks.
- 56 – Becker’s 56-yard field goal at Utah last year was the longest field goal in CU history by a freshman.
- 73 – Career special teams points for senior receiver Daniel Arias, ranking seventh in CU history. Arias led the team with 22 points last year.