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Offseason Overview: Major upgrades for KU's kicking game

3 min read
Our latest edition of the Offseason Overview Kansas football series focuses on two key additions on special teams. [Matt Tait photo] 

We’ll learn a lot more about the Kansas football program and its outlook for the 2023 season in a couple of months, when preseason camp is in full swing and the Jayhawks really begin preparing for the encore performance to last year’s Liberty Bowl appearance.

For now, though, let’s set the stage for how things look heading into camp.

What’s important? What’s known? Key question marks and players in need of a breakthrough performance for the Jayhawks to take that next step all will be covered in our Offseason Overview series.

Next up: Getting a leg up in the kicking game

To say that the Jayhawks left a little to be desired when the field goal and punt teams were on the field in 2022 would be putting it mildly.

Kansas ranked dead last in the conference in field goals made (8) and second-to-last in field goal percentage (.571) only ahead of Iowa State, which made five more and attempted nine more.

The Jayhawks were also last in the Big 12 in both punting average (39.7 yards per punt) and net punting at 36 yards per kick.

Simply put: That won’t cut it for a team looking to climb into the conversation with the conference’s true contenders. So, Lance Leipold and company went out and did something about it this offseason.

To put the kicking woes on 2022 punter Reis Vernon and 2022 place kicker Jacob Borcila would not be entirely fair. Both were below average to be sure, but one of the big goals of the coaching staff this offseason was to improve KU’s special teams across the board. And doing that requires much more than adding one or two players.

More on that later.

For now, let’s look at the upgrades the Jayhawks did make at both kicker positions.

In placekicker Seth Keller, KU brings experience, range and consistency to the program.

In 2022, Keller made 14 of his 16 field goal attempts (87.5%) with a long of 49 yards, and he owns a career mark of 86.5%, having hit 37 of 43 kicks during his three seasons at Texas State.

Owen Piepergerdes, who took over for Borcila late in the 2022 season, and local prospect Charlie Weinrich, a transfer from Nebraska, are around to add to the competition at the position, but it should be Keller’s job to lose and he should be a major upgrade for the Kansas offense.

His ability and consistency should provide offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki more freedom to call the exact game he wants to call, knowing that he has a capable kicker to fall back on, rather than having to take into account the fact that even short- to mid-range kicks are no given the way he had to last season.

Vernon, now a junior, is still with the program, but the addition of Australian-born punter Damon Greaves could be an even bigger upgrade than adding Keller to the field goal kicking team.

Greaves has experience playing Australian Rules Football professionally in his homeland, and he’s been booting balls since he was little.

On top of that, he has worked with Prokick Australia, which has produced six Ray Guy Award winners at the NFL level, to improve his punting ability and prepare him for the jump to playing in the United States.

Greaves’ trip to America will be his first, but as long as he handles the cultural changes that will come with his move, he should quickly emerge as a weapon for the Jayhawks’ defense.

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Here's a look at the other entries in our KU football Offseason Overview series:

• What depth & talent bring to KU's QB room

• The race for running back reps

• Examining the D Tackle position

• The value of the old men of the O-Line

• How many tight ends will KU utilize in 2023?

• Major upgrades for KU's kicking game

• Getting more explosive at linebacker