Technique the key to the development of CMU's young special teams stars
The talent was obvious, the breakout might not have been.
Redshirt freshman punter Luke Elzinga and true freshman kicker Marshall Meeder were both named first team All-Mid-American Conference. Meeder made all eight of his field goal attempts, including two from 50-plus yards, while Elzinga averaged 43.2 yards per punt and had 14 of his 33 attempts downed inside the 20.
Both were among the best specialists in Michigan coming out of high school in their respective classes, but hadn't kicked a football at collegiate level leading up to the 2020 season. Add in the first season with special teams coordinator Keith Murphy, some struggles could be expected.
That was not the case. And, according to Murphy, the key was ironically continuity.
"My philosophy is to limit the technique corrections," Murphy said. "These guys are working with their kicking coaches off the field before and then in the summer with all the guys and the camps."
The duo is returning for year two with Murphy. Though he's responsible for them during the season, Murphy knows that he is coaching players who come from high school coaches and trainers who teach technique.
The key is to build on this technique, not tear it down.
"They have their base fundamentals that they have and so for me to come in and change things quickly and shortly within a two-week or three-week fall camp, that's not a smart thing for me to do," Murphy said.
As part of a unique offseason, one in which the Chippewas elected to extend training and start spring practice later, Murphy said that Elzinga and Meeder are coming off a long training regimen with strength coach Joel Welsh.
"They've got all these new muscles that they've never thought of or paid attention to," Murphy said. "So they feel the ball come off their foot and they're like, 'Oh, I've got to hit it harder.'
The development of Meeder and Elzinga, along with long snapper Franklin Lama, will be interesting to watch. They've set the bar for themselves high, improving as the season progressed. Elzinga finished first in the MAC in punting grades from Pro Football Focus, finishing with a 66.0.
Meeder was a second team freshman All-American by The Athletic as he missed only one kick, an extra point in the Chippewas' season opener. His holder from last season, Mark Patritto, has moved on from the program. Finding a replacement who can provide continuity will be important.
"It's about getting comfortable with the surroundings," Murphy said. "Whether it's kicking in the stadium a few more times than you would normally. Getting more adjusted to your holder teammates and things like that. To me, that is the big focus."
The Chippewas are currently working with just Elzinga, Meeder and Lama in spring practice. Aidan Jennings, who kicked off twice last season as a redshirt freshman, is not on the roster.
Ryan Peluso, a Troy native who is the fifth ranked punter and eighth ranked kicker in the class of 2021 by Kornblue Kicking, and Chugiak, Alaska native Josh Rolston will join the team as walk-ons in the fall. Ben Pratt, a long snapper from Normal, Illinois, will also join the team in fall camp.