Notre Dame unit breakdown: Special Teams

Notre Dame unit breakdown: Special Teams
January 23, 2014, 2:45 pm
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2013 review: Kyle Brindza nearly did everything. The junior attempted 26 of Notre Dame's 27 field goals, kicked 43 of his team's 52 punts and kicked off all 75 times -- and he managed that heavy workload pretty well.

Brindza connected on 20 of 26 field goals, a pedestrian 76.9 percent conversion rate. But only five players attempted more field goals than Brindza, and fourth-quarter misses were a rarity. His late-game reliability was an asset for a team that continued to struggle to turn red zone possessions into touchdowns. He tied his career high (and an Irish single-game record) with five field goals the Pinstripe Bowl.

[MORE: Notre Dame unit breakdown: DBs]

Brindza averaged 41.1 yards per punt -- again, which puts him in the middle of the pack among FBS punters -- but he only had three touchbacks and dropped seven attempts inside the 20. On kickoffs, Brindza had 35 touchbacks on those 75 attempts, a decent enough number given Notre Dame's kick coverage struggles.

Notre Dame averaged 23.7 yards per kick return (22nd nationally) and 7.1 yards per punt return (82nd), though didn't have a special teams touchdown. Still, the 7.1 yards per return on punts was a major improvement from 2012, in which the Irish averaged 2.2 yards per punt return.

Departures: Nick Tausch, Alex Wulfeck, George Atkinson, T.J. Jones

Arrivals: Tyler Newsome

2014 outlook: Expect Notre Dame to try to give Brindza some relief on punts, with Newsome or walk-on Andrew Antognoli pushing for playing time. Brindza kicked an awful lot last year: Including PATs, he attempted 182 kicks and that doesn't count his work in practice. He seemed to do a good job pacing himself -- he talked during the season about being on a "kick count" like a pitch count in baseball -- but he may be better served just kicking field goals and handling kickoffs this fall.

But if Newsome, Antognoli or someone else can't become a trustworthy punter, Brindza may wind up doing everything again in 2014.

[MORE: Notre Dame unit breakdown: Offensive line]

Notre Dame will have to replace Atkinson and Jones on kick and punt returns, respectively, though should have no shortage of weapons to do so. Amir Carlisle saw time as a kick returner against Rutgers and Cam McDaniel has worked as a returner in the past, too. Punts will be a little trickier, though we'll get an outline of who could fill Jones' shoes during spring practice.

X-Factor: “When you have a guy like Kyle Brindza that is so good in the fourth quarter, regardless of what the distance is, I’ve got to put him on the field.”

That's what coach Brian Kelly said after Brindza drilled a pair of fourth-quarter field goals -- including a 49-yarder -- in Notre Dame's 29-16 win over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. In two years as Notre Dame's placekicker, Brindza has hit 14 of 15 fourth-quarter attempts, with the only miss in an easy win over Temple that was, according to Kelly, partly the product of a bad hold.

Having a reliable placekicker is hardly a given at the college level, let alone someone who's reliable late in games. That's part of what makes Brindza so valuable -- that late-game confidence in a placekicker is a real asset for a college coach.