By John Shinn
When Jimmy Stevens was asked the biggest kick he made last season, the sophomore couldn’t come up with a typical pressure kick. All 12 of the Sooners’ wins came by at least 14 points. There were no opportunities for him to play the hero.
Instead, he thought it was one late in the first half of OU’s 66-28 victory over Texas A&M.;
“If I didn’t make that one, I probably wouldn’t have kicked the rest of the season,” he said.
Stevens admits now his confidence suffered throughout his first season as OU’s kicker. He made 8-of-12 attempts and a season long of just 42 yards. It wasn’t the breakout season he planned.
“I kept telling myself throughout the season I was good enough to be here,” Stevens said. “If I wasn’t, then I wouldn’t be here.”
The kicker’s struggles mirrored OU’s special teams last season. Anything involving them putting a foot on the ball, was a struggle.
The punt unit finished 85th in the country in net punting. The kick coverage unit allowed four returns for a touchdown.
It’s why special teams was given added emphasis in the offseason and has been stressed heavily in the preseason.
“I spent more time during the off time studying other people, seeing what they do and what we can do better scheme wise and with personnel,” special teams coordinator Chris Wilson said. “It’s been one of the big things we’ve focused on. Coach Stoops and the rest of our staff have really focused on it.”
The talent is there for the Sooners’ special teams to once again be special. The return game has some great talent with wide receiver Ryan Broyles and cornerback Dominique Franks both back. Each has shown the ability to change games with the ball in their hands.
Stoops has said since practice began he’s seen vast improvement from Stevens and the kicking game.
“The field goals have been incredibly consistent and good, which I hoped for and expected,” he said. “With a year’s more experience they’re better.”
The punting game doesn’t have the experience, but it does have intrigue.
Through the first two weeks of training, redshirt freshman Tress Way appears to have nailed down the job. He’s demonstrated a booming leg that OU missed last season.
“He is just refining his technique and I think it is a lot more polished than it was in the spring, and more consistent now,” Stoops said. “He has a chance to really change the field for us.”
The intrigue comes from junior college transfer Cameron Kenney. He was recruited as a receiver and will be a factor at that position. But he’s also shown himself to be a capable punter.
The opportunity to snap the ball to someone capable of scoring touchdowns on fourth-and-4, however, offers options.
Options may have been the biggest thing OU lacked last season. Outside of the return game, everything was below average. OU hopes that was a one-year aberration. Its kicker now has experience. It also has a freshmen class that could add several reliable special teams players to the mix.
“I feel we have the kind of skill to be solid in those areas,” Stoops said.