2016 Miami Hurricanes spring football preview: Who steps up on special teams?

Ninth in a series of position-by-position looks at the Hurricanes heading into spring practices, which begin March 15. Previously: QB | RB | WR | TE | OL | DL | LB | DB

New tight ends coach Todd Hartley will also coach UM’s special teams, and he is in need of good returners.

Corn Elder was Miami’s top weapon last season, averaging 13.8 yards per punt and 33.8 yards per kick return. He scored one touchdown each way, and had two more called back because of penalties. However, he will be relied on heavily at cornerback in 2016, so the Hurricanes need to find help elsewhere.

A look at Miami’s special teams situation heading into the spring:

In the return game, Miami needs to find the next Corn Elder. (Getty Images)
In the return game, Miami needs to find the next Corn Elder. (Getty Images)

Projected depth chart
K – Michael Badgley, Jr.
P – Justin Vogel, R-Sr.
KR – Mark Walton, Soph.; Trayone Gray, Jr.
PR — Corn Elder, Sr.; Braxton Berrios, Jr.

On the way: KR/PR Sam Bruce, Fr.; KR/PR Malek Young, Fr.

Moving on: None

Major storyline: With Elder playing a much more significant role as a cornerback – a la Artie Burns last season – who returns punts and kicks?

Is wide receiver Braxton Berrios (average 4.2 yards on 11 punt returns, with a long of 20) better than he showed last year? Will Walton (17.6 yards on 17 kickoffs) keep improving? How about shifting sophomore safety Jaquan Johnson (5-10, 190) a punt return role? What about Gray, who had a few cracks at returning kicks last year? When Bruce and Young arrive this summer, can they help? The bet here is Bruce winds up becoming a valued punt returner – though short (5-8, 180), he’s muscular, shifty and goes from 0-to-60 very rapidly.

Any way you slice it, Miami might be inexperienced in the return game. The kicking game is another matter.

Miami is happy to have Badgley, a Lou Groza Award semifinalist, and Vogel reprise last year’s roles. Badgley made 25-of-30 field goals, with a long of 57 yards, and an overtime winner against Nebraska. He twice went 5-for-5 in a game, tying a school record. Vogel averaged 42.5 yards on 67 punts, with a long of 73. Jon Semerene, who booted five of 64 kickoffs out of bounds, may or may not have his job back.

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