Spring Preview – Special Teams

Special teams played a major role in the outcome of three games last season. Everyone remembers the swinging-gate situation against Texas A&M that cost the Panthers a chance to take the game into overtime. David Abdul had an outstanding 4-field goal performance against Boston College, including the game-winning 42-yard field goal in overtime.

Shawn Robinson had a 66-yard punt return for a touchdown against Oregon State in the Insight Bowl. The game was still in doubt before his momentum-changing TD return. Last but not least, remember Andy Lee's excellent punting that helped us win the battle of field position in many games last season.

Pitt returns All-Big East punter Andy Lee (6-2/205) for his senior season. Andy averaged 43.1 yards per punt last season. He also had a long punt of 73 yards. Andy has a chance to position himself for a shot at the NFL with another outstanding season.

The Panthers also return true sophomore kicker David Abdul (5-10/175). David struggled through the early part of last season, but once he settled down he had a very good season. David made 13 of 20 field goals last season with a long kick of 47 yards. He made 4 of 5 between 30-39 yards and was 4 of 8 between 40-49 yards. He was largely responsible for the victory over Boston College in a game that was evenly matched.

Unlike the kicking positions, the Panthers have a lot of questions to answer this spring at return specialist. Cornerback Torrie Cox was one of the best special teams players in Pitt history and will be extremely tough to replace as he moves on to the NFL. Torrie was outstanding as a kickoff returner and coverage man on the punt team. Senior Shawntae Spencer (6-2/175) was the other kickoff return man last season and he looks to take over for Torrie Cox. He returned 4 kicks for 95 yards, for a 23.8 yards per return average.

Other candidates to return kicks with Spencer include senior William Ferguson (5-10/185) and junior Marcus Furman (5-8/185). Both Ferguson and Furman will compete with part-time starter Billy Gaines (5-7/175) for the punt-return duties. Gaines has excellent speed and should be much improved after learning on the fly last season as a true freshman.

Finding two new starters at the kickoff and punt return positions will be first on the list for the special teams this season. Finding a punt return coverage man to replace Cox will also be a priority. If Abdul continues his steady development as a kicking specialist, he has an excellent chance to join punter Andy Lee as an All-Big East performer this season.

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