Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Too often when football fans analyze
teams, their focus is on the offense and the defense. Makes sense, right?
Well, football coaches always talk about the three phases of the game. That's
because they recognize the importance of special teams.
The kicking and return games are full of game-changing players who literally
give their teams a leg up on opponents, whether it's with a kicker or an
elusive return man's speed.
Coverage teams are vital, too, hoping to put an opponent in a bad spot which
can get a defense off the field quickly and put the offense back on the field.
The Football Championship Subdivision is full of such special teams standouts.
Following are 10 FCS special teams players to watch this season:
Zach Brown, Portland State, PK, Sr., 6-1, 200 - Brown enters his senior season
with 60 career field goals (out of 78 attempts), setting the school record
with 18 field goals as a freshman in 2009, matching it with another 18 as a
sophomore and then setting a new standard with 24 as a junior. The first-team
All-America has six career field goals from at least 50 yards. He's also
lethal inside 40 yards (45-of-47).
Darius Carey, McNeese State, PR, Sr., 6-0, 185 - Not just speedy, Carey is an
elusive punt returner. Last year, he averaged 16.9 yards per return, including
a 68-yarder for a touchdown against Sioux Falls, to rank second in the FCS. He
made The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS All-America second team. Carey also
was McNeese State's leading receiver after transferring to the Southland
Conference school from North Texas.
Gralyn Crawford, Stephen F. Austin, KR/PR, Sr., 5-11, 175 - Over the last two
seasons, Crawford has scored five touchdowns on returns, four off kickoffs and
one off a punt. He's not afraid to get hit, but he also uses his speed to
avoid would-be tacklers. He has averaged 27 yards on kickoff returns and 11.2
yards on punt returns in his career. He also has caught at least 50 passes in
each of his first three seasons for a total of 197 receptions, 2,546 receiving
yards and 19 touchdown catches.
A.J. Cruz, Brown, KR, Sr., 5-9, 190 - Only Liberty's Kevin Fogg averaged more
yards per kickoff return in the FCS last year than Cruz's 31.2. Included was
an 83-yarder for a touchdown against Dartmouth. Extremely athletic with a 37-
inch vertical, Cruz is also the top cornerback in the Ivy League, having
gained first-team honors in each of the past two seasons.
Darius Drummond, South Carolina State, PR, Jr., 5-11, 185 - Drummond is a
smart, versatile player who is instinctive with the ball. He ranked fourth in
the FCS in punt return average (13.6) a season ago and broke loose for a 68-
yard touchdown return against Florida A&M. He has excellent ball skills,
having intercepted two passes and broken up eight more in the Bulldogs'
secondary last season.
Kevin Fogg, Liberty, KR, Sr., 5-10, 180 - Opponents get lost in the Fogg when
they try to tackle this explosive returner. He led the FCS in kickoff return
average (33.5) and was the only player to return three for touchdowns last
season. He sees the field very well as both a cornerback and a return
specialist, and has sub-4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash. Liberty coaches
believe Fogg has NFL skills.
Patrick Murray, Fordham, P, Sr., 5-7, 160 - Murray's size belies his booming
style as a punter. Last year, he started using more of a rugby style and
averaged 44.1 yards for the No. 3 ranking in the FCS. It was the second time
he led the Patriot League in punting average, as he also did it as a freshman
in 2009. Murray, who originally attended Delaware, comes from a family of
national-caliber Gaelic football players in Ireland. This year, he's expected
to return to a more conventional punting style.
Jonathan Plisco, Old Dominion, P, Sr., 6-0, 210 - Naturally right-handed,
Plisco injured his right foot as a child and learned to kick predominately
with his left foot. He led the FCS in punting average (44.8 yards) as a
sophomore in 2010 and raised his mark to 46.1 yards last season, although that
dropped to second nationally. He's booted 56 punts of at least 50 yards in his
career and earned second-team All-America honors as both a freshman and
Tyler Sievertsen, Northern Iowa, PK, Jr., 6-2, 185 - As a sophomore last
season, Sievertsen delivered on 18 of his 20 field-goal attempts - a
scintillating 90 percent - with three coming from 48 yards. He also converted
all 39 of his extra-point attempts. His 93 points were the most in a season by
a UNI player since 2008. He kicks with a powerful, driving style.
Fabian Truss, Samford, KR, Jr., 5-9, 190 - A hometown product, people in
Birmingham are well aware of Truss' elusive running skills. He has the
quickness to make people miss and the speed to break long runs. He averaged
28.4 yards per kickoff return as a freshman in 2010 and 29.3 yards a year ago,
while breaking an 82-yarder for a touchdown against Western Carolina at
Samford's Homecoming. Had he not had a late-season leg injury, Truss might
have posted a 1,000-yard season as a running back as well.
The Sports Network