During the preseason, Thomas Weber’s kicking was shaky at times, but those struggles have been long forgotten as the Arizona State redshirt freshman has been dead solid perfect.
Weber booted four field goals during the Sun Devils’ 41-3 win at Stanford on Saturday, making him 10-for-10 on the season. The 10 consecutive makes are believed to be the fourth-longest streak in the nation.
“Shhhh. Don’t jinx him,” ASU coach Dennis Erickson said on Sunday.
If that is the case, Erickson should be loathe to talk about almost all of his special teams, which have been instrumental in ASU’s 5-0 record and place in the national rankings (18th Associated Press, 19th USA Today/coaches, 19th Harris Interactive, eighth Sagarin computer ratings).
Among the highlights:
• Of Weber’s 10 field goals — Michael Braunstein of Ohio leads the nation with 16 straight good kicks — seven have been from at least 30 yards. His longest kick is 48 yards.
“You can’t ask for much more than what he’s done,” Erickson said. “He has knocked them through and kicked the ball off well. I couldn’t be happier.”
• Kyle Williams is No. 1 in the Pac-10 in punt return average at 13.7 yards per attempt.
• Punter Jonathan Johnson continues to struggle, with a net average of just 33.8 yards, but the coverage is bailing him out. On Saturday, linebacker Morris Wooten hustled downfield on a linedrive punt by Johnson and forced a fumble, and the Sun Devils recovered.
“Our special teams are playing well,” Erickson said. “I think our kickoff coverage has been good the last couple of weeks. We are not punting it like we need to, but we’re covering and protecting well. We haven’t made any mistakes that are costly.”
Despite some damaging blocked punts in 2004 and ’05, ASU has been proud of the play of its special teams during recent seasons. This year, the unit has a new mentor, with cornerbacks coach Al Simmons adding the special-teams duties held by Tom Osborne from 2001-06.
Simmons is one of two holdovers from Dirk Koetter’s staff, with defensive line coach Grady Stretz the other. Like any specialteams coach, he delicately tries to put the best players on the field while preserving the offensive and defensive starters.
“You try to get everybody you can involved,” Simmons said. “If you have enough depth, you can do it. Finding that balance does become a problem. Ideally, you’d like (starters) to play no more than two special teams, but sometimes, guys have to play three.
“Then, you have those players who don’t start but are good enough to play on four special teams. Those guys really help your depth, but we’ll always be trying to find that balance, because I want the best guys out there.”
Starting cornerback Justin Tryon is on four of the six units, strong-side linebacker Travis Goethel on three. They are complemented by such role players who have reputations as specialteams standouts — Brett Nenaber (four units), Tyrice Thompson (three), Chad Lindsey (three) and Littrele Jones (two).