Nobody will ever forget Aaron Bates.   Nobody will ever forget “Little Giants.”  It was the play that made an MSU punter on a September day “immortal.”  Bates took the snap for what appeared to be a field goal on a big fourth down in overtime against Notre Dame.   He got up out of his stance and threw a touchdown pass to a wide-open Charlie Gantt.  Hearts broke in South Bend and the Spartan Nation doled out high fives and hugs.

 

Enter the 2011 season, there is no Aaron Bates or Charlie Gantt; they’ve both graduated.  Mike Sadler has solidified the job at the punter position and appears ready to pick up right where Bates left off.  Bates was a high school quarterback.  The throw he made to Gantt was in the ol’ high school arsenal.  Sadler on the other hand is pure punter.  He was regarded as one of the top two players at his position in the country.  Everybody wanted him.  He could have played for virtually any other team in the country had he committed elsewhere a year ago.  As a redshirt freshman, Sadler is ready and could potentially give the Spartans a bit better field position then they’ve had recently.  It is unbelievable when you consider Bates’ resume.

 

Mike Tressel coaches the linebackers and the special teams.   The good news is that we’ve got a whole crop of talented linebackers to play special teams.  Kickoffs and punts can result in the most violent plays on the football field.  When you are covering punts and kicks, you need players that can create a collision and separate someone from the ball.  This is traditionally why good linebacker and safety play results in both good kickoff and punt coverage.

 

Names like Bullough (your going to hear this one a lot this year), Norman, Jones, Gardiner, Allen and Hammock will be in on a lot of big plays both on defense and special teams. The same can be said of Lewis, Robinson, Hicks and Drummond.  Having guys like these on the field will result in some big plays and a number of momentum changing turnovers.

 

Kickoffs and punts are often overlooked by the common fan as merely a formality.  When you analyze last season, there were three games where special teams decided the outcome, Notre Dame, Purdue and Northwestern.  All of these games would have resulted in losses without, “Little Giants,” “Mouse Trap” and “Denicos Goes Flying: Part I.”  The Denicos sequel is due out sometime this fall.  You could argue that Keshawn’s return against the Badgers turned the momentum around as well and that game could be counted as number four.

 

Conroy brings his All Big Ten leg back for his junior season.  He had an incredible first year as our starting place kicker.  It will be tough for Conroy to repeat his 2010 performance, but shows he is very consistent, just like the many great Spartans before him.  He will be breaking in a new long snapper (Giampapa or Anderson) and a new holder in Brad Sonntag.  These are two very important pieces to the field goal team.  Hopefully the loss of Shackelton and Bates (as the former holder) will go unnoticed.

 

Kevin Muma is the Spartan’s kickoff specialist.  His big leg allows him to boom the ball deep on kickoffs so that Tressel’s horses have a full head of steam when they arrive downfield.  Muma has been fairly successful reaching the endzone and will continue to give MSU favorable field position on kickoffs.

 

When MSU is returning the ball things could get pretty darn interesting.  Keshawn Martin is the best return man in the Big Ten.  He will be on both kickoffs and punt returns.  He is dangerous.  I expect teams to try and kick away from him.  The problem is that there are too many other weapons.  Guys like Bennie Fowler, Nick Hill and Larry Caper to name a few.   MSU will have multiple returns this season for touchdowns.  Mark it down.

 

It will be hard for MSU to be any better than they were last season on special teams.  A new long snapper and a new holder are wildcards.  On the other hand, better athletes on kickoffs and kick returns will result in more return yards for MSU and more turnovers by the opposition.   At the end of the season MSU fans will be able to say once more, “MSU’s special teams were pretty darn special.”