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Friday, March 7, 2014
Position battles to watch: Kicker/punter

By Max Olson

Editor's note: This is the fifth and final part of a weeklong series breaking down Texas’ most important spring position battles when the Longhorns begin practice in two weeks.

Moving on: Anthony Fera, who leaves as the most decorated kicker in Longhorns history after a remarkable 2013 season. Fera was the first consensus All-America selection and Lou Groza Award finalist in school history and also one of the Big 12’s best punters. Texas fans figured replacing Justin Tucker would be impossible, but Fera was arguably better in his second and final season in burnt orange.

The contenders: Despite losing Fera, the Longhorns do bring back one experienced placekicker in Nick Jordan and a junior-to-be in Nick Rose who has handled kickoffs for two seasons.

Texas also brings back William Russ, who will be a senior this fall, as well as junior Ben Pruitt, sophomore Michael Davidson and redshirt freshman Mitchell Becker.

Moving forward: After years of divvying up the duties among the staff, Texas finally has a designated special teams coach in Chris Vaughn. He’ll also coach the secondary with Vance Bedford, but is responsible for finding the next Fera on this roster.

This time, though, it seems more likely Texas will go back to having a two- or three-man unit for handling kicks this season. At least, that seems like a likely outcome because of Rose’s specialty -- booming kickoffs. He raised his touchback rate from 36 percent as a freshman to 42 percent in 2013 and should be given an opportunity to earn another role in year three.

Jordan did not appear in a game last season but hit on 9-of-15 field goal attempts as a true freshman in 2012, holding down that job for 10 games while Fera dealt with a groin injury. He hit seven of his final 10 attempts that year and was understandably inconsistent for a rookie. The job should be there for the taking for Jordan this spring.

But Vaughn wants competition. He says he’ll put all his options on the field this spring, put them in pressure situations and find out who stands out.

Russ is a bit of a dark horse in this race, a scholarship player who has dealt with injuries during his career. He and Becker might be the best options at the moment for finding a punter, but there’s no reason to count out Pruitt, Davidson (who recorded one kickoff last season) or anyone else at this point.

Prediction: A too-close-to-call battle in spring ball. Seems like a safe bet right now would be that Jordan is the placekicker, Russ and Becker are battling for punter duties, and Rose continues to hold down the kickoffs. But if someone is good enough to do multiple roles, the staff won't be afraid to consolidate responsibilities.