Holgorsen feels good about kicking specialists
MORGANTOWN - There's plenty of competition for almost every spot during the West Virginia spring football practices that began with a warm afternoon workout on Sunday.
It was apparent, though, during the brief window that the first of the 15 practices was open to the media that there is very little competition in one area - kicking specialists.
There is one real kicker in camp. There is one punter. There is one long-snapper and there is one holder.
And only three players combine to hold down those four positions. There aren't even any real backups for special teams coach Joe DeForest to sift through.
"We've got guys that are going to get a lot of individual attention from coach DeForest,'' head coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We'll see where we end up with that.''
It won't be this way forever, of course. Between walk-ons and scholarship recruits who will arrive in the summer, there will be competition for most of the jobs.
But for the spring, it's pretty much up to Josh Lambert, Mike Molinari and John DePalma to work on their own.
At Sunday's first practice, Lambert handled almost all the kicking during the field goal-PAT session. And judging by his kicks on the first day, he might be up to the task of replacing four-year starter Tyler Bitancurt. Lambert, a 6-foot-1, 199-pound freshman who redshirted last fall, got ahold of nearly every kick he tried Sunday.
"Yeah,'' he said walking off the field. "I was hitting them pretty good.''
Lambert's holder for his kicks was Molinari, who is the incumbent in that job. Molinari was the only other player who attempted kicks Sunday when he and Lambert traded places for two kicks.
Molinari is also the heir apparent as the punter. He has some experience there, sharing the job on and off with Bitancurt and Corey Smith the last two years.
DePalma is also an incumbent as the long snapper.
"We'll improve with DePalma. He looks like a whole different guy,'' Holgorsen said of his snapper prior to the spring. "He just needed to mature. He's doing a good job. And Michael Molinari is one of our workout sensations. He's motivated to try and win the punter duty.''
The competition at punter, though, is expected to crank up in fall camp when junior college transfer Nick O'Toole arrives. West Virginia found and signed O'Toole out of Fullerton College in California just before the signing period began last month.
"Coach DeForest did a great job of identifying Nick O'Toole,'' Holgorsen said on signing day of the 6-foot-3, 220-pound O'Toole, who averaged 41.8 yards per punt in his only season at Fullerton. "His upside is unbelievable. He's a large kid that has game experience.''
Until O'Toole and anyone else capable of challenging for the kicking jobs shows up this summer, though, the only competition this spring will be in impressing the coaches. But Holgorsen seems OK with that because there are plenty of other special teams things to work on in the spring.
"It's not just about the kicker, punter, snapper and returner. It is about 50 other guys that need to learn how to take care of some technique stuff when it comes to special teams,'' Holgorsen said. "We'll hit the ground running with that when it comes to the first practice in spring from a special teams standpoint.''
As for the kickers and snappers Holgorsen has now and expects this summer, he feels like he's in a good place.
"We're in a good position because that gives us a scholarship punter [O'Toole], a scholarship kicker in Josh Lambert and a long snapper in John DePalma that we are very comfortable with,'' Holgorsen said. "We feel good about them because they're young and able to help us for years to come.''
BRIEFLY: Finding returners to replace Tavon Austin is another task facing the special teams this spring. On Sunday, receiver Jordan Thompson and running backs Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison were among those fielding punts.
"We obviously need returners. Everyone that has returned for us over the last couple of years is gone,'' Holgorsen said. "So we'll try and develop a couple of those guys in the spring, and then we have some guys coming in [this summer] that are obviously going to get a chance to do that as well.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1