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Villanova Football Preview 2014: Special Teams

Special teams can be make-or-break for any team, so how will Villanova's unit stack up in 2014?

Independent Philly

There will be no more Mark Hamilton taking on both the kicking and punting duties this season. Hamilton has graduated and his departure from the program will leave a big question-mark at both positions. He was 33-of-42 on field goals in his Villanova career and 130-of-133 on extra points. More importantly, he was a spectacular punter for the Wildcats, averaging 41.7 yards per punt and dropping 14 of them inside the 20-yard line.

Outside of the kicking game, the 'Cats return the incumbents for most key special teams positions. Lets take a look at the two-deep.

Projected Depth Chart

Kicker Kick-off Punter Holder
Steve Weyler (Fr) Chris Gough (Sr) Chris Gough (Sr) Cody Pittman (Jr)
Preston Seiler (Fr) Preston Seiler (Fr) John Hinchen (So) Peter Burkly (So)

Longsnapper Kick Returner Punt Returner
Morgan Craig (Sr) Poppy Livers (Sr) Poppy Livers (Sr)
Justin Rhinesmith (Jr) Aaron Wells (Jr) Aaron Wells (Jr)

Kicker

Last season's understudy, Chris Gough, will be one of the candidates to take on the the kicking duties this season, but he is not necessarily the top candidate. He is competing with a couple of younger players this Summer. Gough has a powerful leg, but it isn't clear that he has the pinpoint accuracy to have success at closer range. As was the case last season, the 'Cats may call Gough in for a super-long-distance attempt.

Freshman Steve Weyler is perhaps the top candidate for the job. He was a team captain at Cardinal O'Hara High School, and was a very successful kicker and punter at the local school. He has a refined technique and good leg strength, and a good camp showing would put him in position for the job.

Preston Seiler could also be in the mix. The former varsity soccer player from Florida has the leg strength  and kicking skill to challenge for the position.

Kick-off Specialist

Chris Gough will likely continue to handle the kick-off duties, he did a tremendous job of it last season averaging 60.5 yards on kickoffs with 17 touchbacks last season. Preston Seiler also has a strong leg, however, so if something happens to Gough, he is likely going to back him up.

Punter

All of Villanova's kickers are candidate for punting duties and Gough will again be a top candidate at the spot. His strong leg should allow him to get good distance on punts and he did serve as Hamilton's back-up at punter as well last season, so he is capable of executing. He will be in competition with sophomore John Hinchen and freshman Preston Seiler for the job as well, all of whom have exhibited great leg strength, so the starter come next week will be determined by form and accuracy.

Kick Returner

Poppy Livers did most of the kick returning last season and would seem likely to keep that role as he enters his senior season. Last season he had 16 kickoff returns for 323 yards (a 20.2 average). His back-up at the end of last season was Aaron Wells, and that seems a likely choice again for this season. There is also a chance that Wells could take the top job away from Livers if he can show some consistent hands to go along with his lightning speed.

Livers has been very good in the kick return role, but Wells could turn into a game-changer in the return game.

Punt Returner

Livers is almost certainly going to handle the punt return duties again this season. Andy Talley usually hands to job to a reliable player who can be trusted to make good decisions and cleanly field the ball.  Wells is again the likely back-up, but his speed is less of a factor on punt returns, since the Wildcats don't often run many punts back. Last season Livers returned just eight punts for an average of 4.5 yards.

Long-Snapper

Senior tight end Morgan Craig is the incumbent at long-snapper and the likely candidate to continue in that role. He performed admirably last season. Should he wind up injured, he will be backed up by Justin Rhinesmith, a junior offensive lineman who is also a capable long-snapper.

Holder

Third-string quarterback Cody Pittman likely returns as the holder for field goals this season. The Wildcats have often relied on back-up quarterbacks in that role, which gives them the advantage of a skilled passer for fakes. At the end of last season, Pittman's backup holder was wide receiver Mike Burke -- who was more likely to hold the ball on windy kick-off. That may be the case again this season, but we're betting on sophomore walk-on quarterback Peter Burkly being next-in-line to hold on the depth chart.