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2014 spring special teams breakdown: it can only get better, right?

The InsideNU spring guide is back as we get set for Northwestern’s spring football practice. Practice starts February 26 and runs through the spring game on April 12, with a break for finals and the school’s regularly scheduled spring break. We’ll run through each position unit to let you know what to watch once practice begins.

Returning starters: KR Matt Harris (So.), KR Venric Mark (Sr.), KR Stephen Buckley (So.), PR Tony Jones (Sr.)

Others returning: K/P Hunter Niswander (RS Fr.), P Chris Gradone (Jr.), P/PK Matt Micucci (So.), PK Jack Mitchell (So.), PK Arthur Omilian (Jr.)

Incoming recruitsNone

Biggest spring question: It can only get better, right?

Putting now-NFL hopeful kicker Jeff Budzien aside, Northwestern's special teams were nothing to write home about last season.

Budzien was solid last season as he went 23-25 with a long of 43 yards but he leaves a struggling unit behind.

Along with Budzien, punter Brandon Williams has graduated. But Williams' 36.0 yards per punt won't be missed as much as Budzien's 92 percent field goal percentage.

There was this:

And this.

Chris Gradone will take over, but he averaged just 37.0 yards per punt last season on 11 punts.

On the return side, Matt Harris showed some positives things last season running back kicks and Venric Mark was an all-american in 2012 for his talents on special teams.

Tony Jones barely returned any punts last season but it would be reasonable to expect Mark to handle the punts.

For a nice analytic view of the special teams, check out Kevin Trahan's piece about the unit's regression.

Position battles:

Right now, Budzien's replacement is up in the air. Both Jack Mitchell and Hunter Niswander will have the opportunity to put in a good showing this spring and position themselves to win the job by the fall.

Our best guess at the depth chart

PK: Hunter Niswander, Jack Mitchell

P: Chris Gradone

Return specialists: Venric Mark, Matt Harris, Tony Jones