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2020 Northwestern football position previews: Special Teams

A new face at punter warrants significant change for the special teams unit this year.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 20 Akron at Kent State Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s officially Northwestern’s summer and time to look ahead to the fall. Despite many uncertainties and potential alterations, the college football powers that be are planning for the 2020 season to start on schedule. We start our summer coverage by previewing every position group on the team. Today, it’s time to look at the third phase of the game: special teams.

Overview

Returning starters: K Charlie Kuhbander (Sr.), K/P Trey Finison (So.), LS Tyler Gillikin (Sr.), Riley Lees (PR), JJ Jefferson (PR), Berkeley Holman (KR/PR), Kyric McGowan (KR)

Key losses: P Andrew David, P Daniel Kubiuk, K Drew Luckenbaugh

Returners: P Cody Gronewold (Jr.), LS Peter Snodgrass (Jr.), P Jake Genyk (So.)

Newcomers: P Derek Adams (GS)

The ‘Cats return the core of special teams’ players for the 2020 season, a group which saw both highs and lows throughout a dismal 2019 campaign. Specialists lacked consistency in performance, namely the punting duo of Andrew David and Daniel Kubiuk.

Incumbent placekicker Charlie Kuhbander also struggled at times, yet he overcame some of the health problems which limited him the previous season. A nice surprise was kickoff specialist Trey Finison, a true freshman who appeared in every game this past season. He averaged 58.9 yards per kickoff and had one successful onside kick.

For punting, recent Kent State graduate transfer Derek Adams should lock down the starting role while senior Tyler Gillikin returns to hold down the long-snapping position.

In the return game, the three main contributors in Riley Lees, JJ Jefferson and Kyric McGowan all return. While not the flashiest or most explosive player, Riley Lees has consistently proven to be both a punt and kick returner with the ability to protect the football and earn solid yardage.

Key Player

Derek Adams

Injuries and inconsistency limited the effectiveness of the punting unit of Kubiuk and David. Adams comes to Evanston with a proven track record of booming punts. Kubiuk and David averaged a combined 37 yards per punt in 2019. By comparison, the former Golden Flash kicked 43 yards per punt. His career long was a 77-yarder against Akron in 2017. He earned second-team All-MAC honors in 2017 and third-team in 2018.

Neither Cody Gronewold nor Jake Genyk have seen action in their careers thus far, and Adams enters this season as the presumptive starter. Yes, punting is perhaps one of the most understated aspects of the game, but the potential for a proven and reliable starter at the position could be huge for the ‘Cats going forward.

Big Question

Can Charlie Kuhbander bounce back?

Charlie Kuhbander enters his final season as a Northwestern Wildcat in need of results. In 2019, he went 10-for-14 and 17-for-18 on extra points. Ultimately, his field goal percentage improved last season, but his mid-range game suffered, as he went 60 percent from 30 to 39 yards.

His misses costs the ‘Cats in key situations, notably in a tie game against Nebraska and in an opportunity to seal the deal against Purdue.

Trey Finison has proven his effectiveness on kickoffs and could be a potential option if Kuhbander cannot capitalize in the clutch.

Depth Chart

Northwestern Special Teams 2020

PK KO P LS KR PR
PK KO P LS KR PR
Charlie Kuhbander Trey Finison Derek Adams Tyler Gillikin Riley Lees Riley Lees
Trey Finison Cody Gronewold/Jake Genyk Peter Snodgrass JJ Jefferson Kyric McGowan