Position Breakdown: Special Teams — 2019 Syracuse Football preview

Szmyt_wagner2018
Syracuse kicker Andre Szmyt lines up for a field goal attempt against Wagner. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

As we countdown to kickoff in August, we’re going to be doing a unit-by-unit preview each week over the summer. This week, we’re taking a look at special teams, one of the biggest reasons for SU’s turnaround in 2018.

WHO’S OUT

For the first time since 2015, Syracuse will have a new long snapper. The Orange graduated four-year start Matt Keller, who snapped for All-ACC players Riley Dixon, Sterling Hofrichter and Andre Szmyt.

But Keller did miss the last seven games of his career after suffering an injury against Clemson, and was replaced by true freshman Aaron Bolinsky. Bolinsky is now listed as the team’s starting long snapper heading into preseason.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART

Other than that, Syracuse returns all of its major pieces from last year’s special teams.

Redshirt senior punter Hofrichter is coming off a season where he was named All-ACC First Team and was once again a candidate for the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation’s top punter. He led the punting unit which led the ACC in net punting average (29.1), finishing the season with 67 punts for 2,874 yards.

Hofrichter will also handle kickoff duties, with Szmyt as his backup.

Redshirt junior Nolan Cooney will backup Hofrichter at punter. Though Cooney has not punted at the college level, he appeared in every game in 2018 as the team’s holder for PATs and field goals. Reserve quarterback Rex Culpepper was listed as the team’s backup holder on the preseason depth chart.

» Related: Taking a look at Syracuse’s 2019 secondary

Szmyt, a redshirt sophomore, returns as the team’s starting placekicker. He became the first Syracuse player to win the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top placekicker, and was the ninth unanimous All-American in team history, first since Dwight Freeney in 2001.

Szmyt led the country in field goals made (30), field goals attempted (34), field goals per game (2.31) and points per game (11.6). Hofrichter will back Szmyt up at placekicker.

Senior Sean Riley was named an All-ACC Third Team selection at all-purpose, collecting a team-high 1,424 all-purpose yards. He was ACC Specialist of the Week after he gashed Connecticut for 290 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns on Sept. 22. Riley was listed atop the depth chart for handling kickoff and punt returns.

Riley will be backed up by Nykeim Johnson, who has returned five kickoffs for 102 yards (20.4 avg.) and one punt for 10 yards.

ANALYSIS

Special teams was one of the reasons for Syracuse’s turnaround in 2018. It started with Riley, who became one of the most effective return men in the ACC. It continued through Hofrichter, who landed 26 punts inside the 20-yard line.

It ended with Szmyt, who came out of obscurity to drill 30 of 34 field goal attempts, second-most in FBS history, and first in SU history to be named nation’s best kicker.

As we wrote above, all the major pieces are back, and there’s no reason to think that Syracuse won’t be dominant in this area heading into 2019.

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Wes Cheng
About Wes Cheng 2452 Articles
Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.