Spring Preview: Special Teams

Special teams has been an area that Fresno State has leaned back on and at the end of the year looks back at to find themselves as one of the best units in college football. And for 2012 the special teams unit was no different than those in the past.
Freshman kicker Quinton Breshears and Senior punter Andrew Shapiro set the tone for the unit and for the better part of the year were really solid. Breshears put points on the board and Shapiro kept offenses from obtaining great field position.
Breshears was 12-15 in field goal attempts on the year and was the first player to win the weekly Mountain West honors with a 4-4 performance against fourth ranked Oregon. However an area of improvement can definitely come in the PAT category where the Bulldogs ranked 115th in the country after missing six on the season.
Shapiro was an All-Mountain West honorable selection after posting a 42.4 yardage average and punting 10 punts inside the 20 yard line. Shapiro was also third in the conference with 13 punts over 50 yards and a long of 69. But after five years, Shapiro leaves the Bulldogs and gives special teams coach Pete Germano the task of replacing a trusty veteran on the team.
Another loss for the Bulldogs comes in the area of their punt return game where senior Rashad Evans has departed. Evans was just outside the top 50 in the country in yardage, but only averaged 9.2 yards per return. However replacing Evans may not be as hard as replacing Shapiro on special teams as an obvious replacement is Isiah Burse who averaged a yard better than Evans on punt returns and also handled kick-off returns for the Bulldogs where he ranked 64th in the country with a 22.4 return average.
Now spring gives Coach Germano a chance to review his options and give players a look in the return game where big returns can definitely give teams a boost and can change the momentum of a game in an instant.
Special Teams Outlook:
Definitely an area where the Bulldogs can look to improve. While their high powered offense may have skewed the rankings, the Bulldogs will look to raise their position in the country. And while it may not be the most prestigious position, many players will be fighting for playing time on special teams where they can make a difference.
Who's back:
Quinton Breshears is definitely the man the Bulldogs will look at for improvement in some aspects of his kicking game, but with a year under his belt, the Bulldogs are expecting big things from Breshears. The Bulldogs also have plenty of capable return men to fill the slot of Rashad Evans and the return positions will definitely be a position battle in spring.
Who's gone:
With the loss of the Andrew Shapiro, the Bulldogs lose a leader on the squad. Shapiro mentored younger members on the team and anytime you lose an all-conference player it's always going to be hard to replace them.
Who's new:
The kicker who may have not gotten the same exposure can be put in the spotlight in 2013 especially if he does take over Shapiro's duty at punter. Garret Swanson may be the player that Coach Germano looks at and being an All-State punter in high school the choice may be obvious. Swanson also handled kickoff duties for the Bulldogs during his freshman season where he had 22 touchbacks on the season.
What's Likely:
Breshears and Swanson both adapt nicely in their second years and become the players that Coach DeRuyter and Germano can depend on down the stretch during their run at a Mountain West title. A suitable return comes into the picture during spring ball and highlights become expected during the season
What's the downside:
No improvement is made in the kicking and return games and the Bulldogs fall late in games where they need a boost in special teams. If the Bulldogs fail to improve before the start of the season, a missed field goal or bad field position can definitely change the outcome of the entire season for the Bulldogs.