Scouting the special teams: Aiming for breakout year

ccosby@herald-leader.comAugust 26, 2009 

  • SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS

    Coach: Steve Ortmayer is in his seventh season coaching special teams and tight ends at Kentucky. He has extensive NFL experience as a special teams coordinator and director of football operations.

    The main man: Senior Lones Seiber has had his share of ups and downs during his UK career. While he's had some big moments (48-yard field goal in the win over Georgia as a freshman, three clutch field goals in the three-overtime win vs. LSU in 2007), his misses have been a hot topic among Wildcats fans. A bothersome hip has affected Seiber at different points during his career. Now he says he's 100 percent healthy and hopes to go out with a bang.

    The supporting cast: Sophomore Ryan Tydlacka will handle the punting and kickoff duties as well as serving as the backup place-kicker. Junior J.J. Helton will serve as the long-snapper. Randall Cobb took over for the injured Dicky Lyons Jr. on punt returns last season and will be a threat in 2009. Speedsters Winston Guy, Derrick Locke and Alfonso Smith figure to be the main kickoff returners.

    Outlook: The Wildcats should be fine on returns but need Seiber to be consistent and Tydlacka to effectively balance punts and kickoffs to be successful.

    CHIP COSBY

Lones Seiber needs 15 points to surpass Joey Worley as Kentucky's career scoring leader, but don't expect Seiber to throw any parties when he breaks the record.

Seiber has other things on his mind, such as ending his much-scrutinized UK career with a bang.

"People ask me about (the record) a lot these days," Seiber said. "It's not really that important to me. I was just fortunate to have as many opportunities, and really I should have already beaten the record. I just want at the end of the year for everybody to say that I had a solid senior year. I've had a lot of struggles my first three years, and I definitely want to go out on a high note."

Seiber will look to improve his 60 percent career field-goal success, but that's not the biggest issue facing the UK special teams unit. The Cats must find a way to replace Tim Masthay, who changed games with his punting (45.2-yard average) and his booming kickoffs that often went for touchbacks.

Sophomore Ryan Tydlacka will step into Masthay's role as the punter/kickoff man. Tydlacka served as the "pooch" punter last year with 16 of his 22 punts going inside the 20. Brooks and UK special teams coach Steve Ortmayer said Tydlacka has been fine punting the ball in camp, although Brooks said Tydlacka had an off day in UK's second scrimmage. Still, the consensus is Tydlacka will be up to the task of punting full-time.

"As a punter, Ryan's not far off from Tim," Ortmayer said. "We think we'll be fine."

The kickoffs have been another story. Tydlacka spent most of his redshirt freshman year focused on punting and is still trying to find his groove as a kickoff man.

"There have been shaky times with me trying to kick off because I haven't done it since high school," Tydlacka said. "Trying to follow Tim on kickoffs, those are big shoes to fill. Everyone knows that. I'm just doing my best and, right now, I think everything will be all right."

Masthay not only could kick the ball out of the end zone, but he also delivered skyrockets that allowed the coverage team to get downfield.

"One thing I think a lot of people don't know about kickoffs is that it's not really about distance, it's about hang time," Tydlacka said. "Tim's hang time was unbelievable. I've just got to find a way to mesh the distance and hang time."

Ortmayer said he believes Tydlacka, who has three years of eligibility remaining, can improve gradually.

"The reason Tim was so good on kickoffs was his body strength," Ortmayer said. "That's something that Ryan can develop over time."

The return game has typically been a strength under Ortmayer, and the Cats have options. Sophomore Randall Cobb is dangerous on punt returns, and Eric Adeyemi had a long punt-return TD in the latest scrimmage.

Ortmayer can work in Derrick Locke, Alfonso Smith, Winston Guy, Moncell Allen and several other candidates on kick returns. Guy had a 96-yard kickoff return against Georgia last year.

"Kickoff return is in great hands," Ortmayer said. "We've got around six quality return guys, and they all know what they're doing. I think our special teams are going to be fine because we have so many guys that have history. We have some experience."

Seiber, who played for Knoxville Central High as a senior, makes no bones about what would be the perfect ending to his UK career. Not surprisingly, it has to do with a certain team in orange's visit to Commonwealth Stadium for the regular-season finale.

"Definitely the Tennessee game," Seiber said when asked about his dream scenario. "I'd love to go out against them and make the winning kick."

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