UK Football

UK freshmen get their shot on special teams

Sometimes it's not easy getting young players fired up about playing special teams.

Avery Williamson was in that boat.

A 6-foot-1, 221-pound freshman from Milan, Tenn., Williamson had his heart set on making the rotation at linebacker in his first year.

Then Williamson did some thinking. He's probably not going to redshirt. Maybe getting in and knocking some people around on special teams will help Williamson's cause at linebacker. He's currently on UK's punt team, kickoff team, and kickoff return team.

"I'm trying to get on the bus, man," Williamson said. "At first I didn't know if I wanted to play special teams, but then I thought about it and was like, 'Man, this is my opportunity to get on the field. I want to get my name out there. I've been playing and involved with my team since high school. I really don't want to redshirt, and this is my opportunity. If I get out there, hustle, and make plays, I'll get my chance."

Williamson is one of several members of the 2010 recruiting class who could make an impact in the kicking game. Another is Jerrell Priester, who broke off a pair of long runs the first time the coaching staff put him in as a punt and kickoff returner.

Priester will see time at cornerback, but he's hoping that if he can make plays as a return man, he'll eventually get some looks on offense. His build (5-9, 170) and speed (timed at 4.31 at the Elite 100 camp at Charlotte last summer) make him an ideal threat on reverses and screen passes.

"I just like having the ball in my hands," he said. "I know I'm needed more at cornerback, and I don't mind playing there, but I never really played a whole lot there. I'm learning, but I'm hoping that if I get a chance to return kicks and show them something maybe they'll let me play a little offense, too."

Mychal Bailey is another new face who will be a key cog on the special teams unit. Bailey said he's been working with the punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return teams.

"Anyway I can get to the ball and make a tackle, I'd be willing to do it," Bailey said.

"All of our units have been fighting over him," special teams coach Greg Nord said. "Everybody wants him on their team."

Bailey's biggest value could be as a kickoff returner. He's run the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds and had an 84-yard return for a touchdown at Southwest Mississippi Community College.

How many returns the young guys actually get their hands on remains to be seen because UK has two of the country's top return men in Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke. But Coach Joker Phillips and Nord agreed it's nice to have some options.

"We got to get ball in their hands," Phillips said of Cobb and Locke. "But there'll be some times during the season where we'll have to get some experience at that position, too. That's where those young guys come into the mix."

"As a special teams coach, you've got to have Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and disaster plan," Nord said. "Guys are going to get nicked up and dinged up, and situations are going to occur where you'll need multiple guys to do everything. If guys start showing up on special teams, it gives you on reason to give them a look at other spots."

Nord said punter Ryan Tydlacka has looked good in camp.

"He's a tremendous punter," Nord said. "He's not just good. He's really good."

There's still a battle going on at placekicker between freshman Joe Mansour, sophomore Craig McIntosh and Tydlacka.

Mansour, a highly touted recruit, is still working out some technical kinks.

"He's got a live, live leg and has really shown great distance," Nord said. "We've got to get his timing down with the snap and the hold and get him comfortable with those guys, because he hasn't worked with them like the others have."

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