Whether it's kick returns, field goals, punting, or punt defense, there is little doubt that special teams will be a strength for Mississippi State in 2013.
ESPN's SEC Blog went so far as to say that MSU's unit ranked as the best overall in the SEC for this season; an honor that speaks a great deal in a league as deep as the SEC.
Field goals this year will be handled by Devon Bell, who finished strong down the stretch in his freshman season last year, and should only improve from there. Although he started a little slow, Devon hit 14 of his last 18 field goals, which alone would have been good enough for the fourth best percentage in the SEC. On kickoffs, coverage was so so for State last year as the Bulldogs allowed just under 20 yards per return, but Bell did register 13 touch backs, so we can hope that number goes up this year, and coverage improves even more.
Speaking of that kickoff coverage, the numbers weren't too bad, but there is one stat that sticks out a bit. State gave up two touchdowns on kickoff returns last year, which was tied for the worst in the league with Ole Miss. That number should really have an asterisk next to it though, and that asterisk's name is the physical freak that is Cordarrelle Patterson.
Kickoff returns last year were another strong point for MSU, as LaDarius Perkins and Jameon Lewis teamed up to average around 23 yards per return, good for 5th best in the SEC. Jameon also was able to take a return to the house against Ole Miss. With Johnthan Banks gone, there's a chance that either Jameon or LaDarius could shift over to handle punt returns. That would leave one of the two to return kickoffs, most likely with Robert Johnson joining them in kick return duties. Either way, State returns all returners (this sentence needs more RETURN) for kickoffs, so this should be a strong facet of the game for MSU once again in 2013.
Like Justin touched on the other day, Baker Swedenberg is about as reliable as you can ask a punter to be. The senior averaged 41 yards per punt in 2012, and his high punting style helped MSU lead the SEC in punt return yardage against with a .46 yards per average given. The running theme in special teams is that these guys don't get the attention or hype that quarterbacks or running backs get, but when you're in a tight game in the fourth quarter, it pays to have a reliable punter at your disposal, and that's what MSU has in the senior from Heritage. #puntersarepeopletoo
In the punt return game, we will be seeing a new face in 2013, as Johnthan Banks and Chad Bumphis have moved on to something I think they call the Nordic Football Legion. Well, something like that. But even though we will see a "fresh face" returning punts this year, it won't be a completely new face, as most likely we will see LaDarius or Jameon shift over from kickoffs to cover punts. Even though it will technically be a new person returning punts, I would say that there is no drop off at all; you could actually argue that there's an improvement with both Perkins and Lewis possessing plenty of speed and big play capability.
Overall, I think we can expect special teams to play their role well this year. I would expect both Bell and Swedenburg to have solid years, but I think a lot of eyes will be on Lewis in the return game. Even before he got on campus, many talked about his big play capability, and we've seen flashes of it since he got to Starkville, including a kickoff return against Ole Miss last year. For State to be successful this season, I think Jameon has to play a big role, and special teams is where he can definitely make his mark.
Now before we go, let's watch some special teams videos: