Iowa State has always put in strong special teams performances since Paul Rhoads took over in 2009. Whether it be well timed onside kicks against Texas and Oklahoma State or a culture changing, albeit unsuccessful, fake extra point against Nebraska; river boat gambler Rhoads understands that special teams are the 3rd leg of the proverbial football tripod.
A constant through all those years was the punting game. First it was Mike Brandtner, then Kirby Van Der Kamp, and now Colin Downing. The kicking game was always mired in inconsistency, but that has been settled by Ankeny native Cole Netten. Netten might not be the most consistent kicker outside of 40 yards, but he's virtually automatic inside that distance.
The return teams have been solid as well. Jarvis West had a kick return touchdown against Texas Tech in 2013, DeVondrick Nealy later added one against TCU, and West added a punt return touchdown against Kansas State last year. Rhoads' return units have been such a strength in the past that kickers have taken to putting balls through the end zone to keep guys like Nealy and West from touching the ball.
Now both returners are gone and a void opens for the next great Iowa State return man.
This is your 2015 preview of Iowa State's specialists.
The Depth Chart
The Swollest Leader
Swoll Netten. The Man, The Myth, The Legend. He's so swoll that he's missed only one extra point in his entire career - a blocked extra point in a 28-20 game vs Oklahoma State in 2013. He's so swoll that when he lines up to kick no one crosses their fingers anymore. He's so swoll that he makes YouTube videos in his spare time showing how he got so swoll.
The team, and the world, needs more Swoll Nettens.
The Hockey Playing Punter Who is Spelled by the Coffin Corner Punter
Iowa State takes so much pride in being #PunterU that they used not one, but two punters in 2014. Colin Downing, who played hockey growing up, is the main man for when a drive stalls at the 50. He stepped in to fill the void filled by everyone's previous favorite punter and hit 69 punts for a 39.4 yard average, which included a long of 64 against Baylor. Only 18 of his punts were returned for a total of 69 yards. His punting resulted in 29 fair catches and 13 punts inside the opponent's 20 yard line. He may not be swoll, but dammit he's trying.
When Iowa State chooses to stall out on the opponent's side of the field they trot out Holden Kramer, who probably has a future as an NFL holder, or drug dealer, or both. Kramer only had seven punts on the year, averaged 29.9 yards per punt, but all seven were downed inside the 20. #CoffinPunterU
A Relevant Stat
Cole Netten's kicking stats inside of 40 yards: 19/21
Cole Netten's kicking stats outside of 40 yards: 5/11, which includes this:
Uh... don't punt 69 times. Keep Swoll swoll inside of 40. Go for it on 4th down otherwise.
Punt 69+1 times.
That Return Game
Rhoads has yet to establish a de facto set of returners for the opener against UNI, but this past Saturday's scrimmage started with Allen Lazard fielding punts. If that scares you, it should.
Lazard can catch the ball, and he's surprisingly elusive for his height; but if you're like me you're just waiting for some torpedo of a scrub on UNI's roster that remembers the one time Lazard lit him up for five touchdown catches in high school and returns the favor after a Lazard fair catch.
D'Vario Montgomery had one kick return against Toledo last year that went for 31 yards and would have went for more had he not been tripped up by the kicker. Montgomery brings a lot of straight line speed that's perfect for a kick returner, and if he trots out against UNI to field the opening kickoff I won't be surprised.
JUCO Jomal Wiltz is in the mix as well, but his name hasn't been mentioned much during the fall camp interviews. He's rumored to be fast as hell, and would be a great player to pair with Montgomery.
The Final Verdict
This group of specialists could reasonably be ranked as the best group on the field, but that's awful and doesn't lead to the hundreds of page views I've come to expect from these previews. Netten has settled the kicking situation and remains entrenched for two more seasons. Downing is the next great punter that is over utilized. And the return units always turn out well under the tutelage of Shane Burnham and Rhoads.
At this point there's only one thing more to request and it's the river boat gambling mentality of Rhoads to return. If he does that and pairs these capable players up with some imaginative trick plays then we're in for a wild ride in 2015.