Hall looks to return success on kickoffs for Wyoming
LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — Tyler Hall has a new position. College football has a new kickoff rule. But he and the Wyoming Cowboys hope that nothing changes this season when it comes to Hall’s production on kickoff returns.
As a sophomore, Hall returned 15 kickoffs for 508 yards. He fell 0.6 returns short of meeting the NCAA’s threshold of 1.2 per game in order to qualify for national rankings. Otherwise, he would have ranked third in the nation at 33.9 yards per return. Only four players topped his two return touchdowns, a Wyoming record.
Since last season, Hall made the move from cornerback to strong-side linebacker/nickel back. At least, that’s what the roster says.
“I’m surprised Tyler referred to himself as a linebacker,” Wyoming tight ends/full backs coach Mike Bath said with a laugh. ”... I think he would maybe identify himself as the third corner.”
Technically, though, Hall gives Wyoming a linebacker at kick returner for the third time in the last four seasons. Running back-turned-Sam linebacker D.J. May made the move to defense before the 2015 season and averaged 25.5 yards on 59 kickoff returns at Wyoming.
“Both those guys, they’re unique, dynamic athletes,” said Bath, who coaches Wyoming’s kick returners. “D.J., I coached him his first year-plus here, and he was a dynamic young man that showed a great physical ability but also just unbelievable attitude. He ran with some stuff to him. Him and Tyler are both extremely similar that way. They go 100 miles an hour and are very decisive in what they do, and they’re talented young men. From an athletic perspective, having that type of mentality, both those guys could play tailback. D.J. did and T-Hall definitely could. We want a dynamic guy back there who can go create something, and both those guys can do it.”
While having a former cornerback and a former tailback return kicks makes a little more sense than a pair of linebackers, it’s still an odd quirk. Michigan graduate Jabrill Peppers, who in 2016 earned Big Ten awards for both linebacker and return specialist of the year, may be the most prominent recent example.
“It’s just guys that like being around the ball and making plays and doing whatever it takes to help the team out,” Hall told the Casper Star-Tribune.
There’s no question Hall has done that. He returned one kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown last season against Hawaii and another 95 yards for a score the next week against Texas State. Part of the credit goes to senior running back Nico Evans, Wyoming’s off returner.
″(He) is as much of an important cog of that as anybody,” Bath said. “He’s a dynamic off returner from a mental perspective and being selfless.”
In general, though, kickoffs have received criticism for producing more injuries than highlights.
“You’ve got to go in realizing that this is the most violent play in football, and you cannot be scared,” Evans said. “Because if you go in scared, you’re going to get destroyed out there. So you’ve just got to go out there and attack it with everything you have and just match violence with violence. That’s how you kind of keep yourself healthy in that play.”
In April, the NCAA approved a rule that allows returners to fair catch on kickoffs inside the 25-yard line for a touchback.
“I don’t think I’m going to be doing that,” Hall said with a laugh.
Head coach Craig Bohl said that as the first year under the rule progresses, teams might get a better sense of how to handle it.
“I like to roll the dice,” he said. “We’re all gamblers here. Let the guy bring it out. But I think you’ll see some change, and we kind of have a road map, but until things really begin to play out, I think all of us, if we’re honest, we’re going to say we’re going to see how it goes this year.”
Said Bath: “It’s going to be something that we have to each week analyze. Because we don’t want to pull the reins off of Tyler because he is an explosive young man. But if it’s something where the opponent has an outstanding kicker that is able to kick hang time along with being able to place it inside the 5, then we’re going to have to make the best decision for the program for the team. So for us, we have to maintain the same level of aggressiveness but also be smart.”
The Cowboys certainly have incentive to put the ball in Hall’s hands, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they err on the side of aggression.
“Just doing some self-studying stuff prior to last season, we presented to coach just keeping the ball in the end zone,” Bath said. “Kind of the safety concern but then also just studying the numbers and such, if we can just give (offensive coordinator Brent Vigen) the ball on the 25 and let him decide what hash that he wants it, that’s a good way start a series. As opposed to the 16-yard line on the left hash, let’s go 25 — and if he wants it in the middle, great, let’s do it. I think maybe just being a little bit conservative with that is something that assisted us and unfortunately hurt Ty with the amount of returns to qualify.”
Maybe that cost Hall the honor of being named preseason all-conference at returner. But so long as kickoffs remain a part of the game, he and Evans make for a dangerous duo.
“We had good team chemistry on that special teams unit,” Hall said. “Just keep it rolling.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com