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Special teams seek a return to special for Utah

True freshmen took over for award winners in 2019.

Utah Utes place kicker Jadon Redding (97) kicks a field goal in Seattle on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Utah won 33-28.
Utah Utes place kicker Jadon Redding (97) kicks a field goal in Seattle on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Utah won 33-28.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Special teams weren’t as special as they have been in recent years for the Utah Utes. There were no Ray Guy or Lou Groza award winners as true freshmen took over the kicking and punting.

Jadon Redding became the primary placekicker — following Matt Gay — and went on to make 10 of 13 of his field goal attempts. He was a perfect 56 of 56 on PATs.

Ben Lennon continued Utah’s Australian pipeline at punter, following award winners Tom Hackett and Mitch Wishnowsky. Lennon averaged 40.91 yards on 44 punts. His longest kick went 62 yards.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said “assuming they don’t get beat out” no changes are expected.

“But it’s an ongoing, continual competition with the specialists,” Whittingham said. “The best guy is going to play.”

Whittingham explained that there are guys in the program pushing them, but have yet to overtake them.

Britain Covey, who opted to redshirt after four games to regain his health after injuries late in the previous season, is back to return kickoff and punts for the Utes.

“That’s a great thing,” Whittingham said. “Britain Covey for punts and kickoffs is a great weapon.”

Utah returner Britain Covey (18) evades the last defender as he returns a punt for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Bulldog Stadium in Fresno, Cali., Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015.
Utah returner Britain Covey (18) evades the last defender as he returns a punt for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Bulldog Stadium in Fresno, Cali., Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015.
Chris Samuels, Deseret News

Covey was a first-team All-Pac-12 return specialist in 2018 and an honorable mention selection in 2015. Despite not being 100%, Covey averaged 17.33 yards per return on kickoffs and 7.67 yards on punt returns during his short stint in 2019.

Senior receivers Derrick Vickers and Demari Simpkins became Utah’s leading return specialists in Covey’s absence. Vickers wound up with a 23.6 yard average on five kickoff returns, while Simpkins averaged 9.06 yards on 16 punt returns. He took one back 66 yards for a touchdown in a 45-15 win over Colorado.

Utah allowed the opposition to average 12.27 over 11 punt returns. The Utes gave up an average of 19.09 yards on 33 kickoff returns.

And last, but not least, senior Keegan Markgraf is back to handle Utah’s snapping duties.