clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2023 Northwestern football position previews: Special teams

Special teams are important too, especially for a team that might struggle to put up points.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK


Returners: Jack Olsen (Sr.), Hunter Renner (Sr.), Will Halkyard (Sr.), Jacob Tabibian (Jr.), Luke Akers

Newcomers: A.J. Henning (Jr. transfer, Michigan)

Don’t discount the importance of special teams, especially for a roster that is going to need every advantage it can get. Three of the four slots here are filled by returning Wildcats, with the exception being Michigan transfer A.J. Henning, and the ceiling is high for the Illinois native returning to his home state.

Olsen should be the first-string kicker heading into 2023. Injuries hampered his 2022 season, and he has only one career attempted field goal in college, but he’s primed to step into the starting role. The hope is that his leg will allow Northwestern to attempt longer tries this season, after constantly shying away last year.

At punter, Akers returns coming off a strong season, but Renner was also effective (albeit in a smaller sample size). The two will continue to joust for the starting job, but the winner should be a punter capable of dramatically impacting the field position battle. Halkyard will also return as the long snapper.

Key player

A.J. Henning

Kicking and punting are arguably more important this year. The ‘Cats could really benefit from steady special teams' play, especially in a season when the roster seemingly lacks game-breaking playmakers to put points on the scoreboard... but it might have one.

Henning is super fast and undeniably effective in the return game. While it remains to be seen what kind of production he will provide as a wideout (his role will be more significant than it was in Ann Arbor), NU is getting a guy who is electric on kickoffs and punts.

Henning returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown last year against UConn and said after the game that he knew he was going to score. He’s a confident player with all the tools in the world to produce at a high level. Northwestern is hoping he blossoms at receiver but is relying on him to be a game-breaker returning kicks.

Big Question

What will Jack Olsen provide?

We just haven’t seen much of Olsen so far because of his injury. Last year, Northwestern did not attempt a kick from more than 40 yards out. It should this season. The ‘Cats need Olsen to be accurate, and they need him to be able to make kicks from long range. Coach Braun and his staff will take any points they can get in 2023, as they try to scratch and claw their way to a few wins.

If this offense is able to push into their opponent's side of the field, Olsen has to be able to convert for three should the drive stall. There’s likely to be a lot of drives that never get to that point, so they have to put points on the board when they have a chance.

2023 Special Teams Depth Chart

Kicker: Jack Olsen, Jacob Tabibian

Punter: Luke Akers, Hunter Renner

Long Snapper: Will Halkyard

Return Specialist: A.J. Henning