USFL Special Teams Stars and Slip-ups; A Week 6 Review
Updated: May 30
Welcome back to the latest update on the 2023 USFL Season! If you've been following my blog regularly, you may have noticed a decrease in my posting frequency as of late. This was primarily due to burnout, as I've published approximately 70 articles over the past year. That said, I'm excited to dive back into writing and share my insights with you. To make things more manageable, I've decided to revive a short-lived series from Between The Goalposts called Stinkers and Studs, which I've affectionately renamed; Stars and Slip-ups.
While I continue to collect statistics and maintain the Special Teams Power Rankings, I've been sharing them on Twitter lately (link at the end of the article). The main goal of these articles is to provide you with the same great content and analysis you've come to expect, just in a more bite-sized format where will do my best to round up my top (and bottom) performers from around the USFL each week. Without further ado, let's discuss this week's Stars and Slip-ups:
1. Nick Vogel - Kicker/Kickoffs - Houston Gamblers - 3/3 FG - 1/1 XP - 3 KO In 35Y - 1 TB
Nick Vogel has managed to earn not only my trust but also the teams, thanks to an impressive bounce-back performance. Before Week 5, Vogel struggled with a 2/5 success rate on Field Goals and a 13/16 record on Extra Points. It was a challenging period, and doubts arose regarding his confidence, leading to instances where the punt team was sent out instead of Nick for potential field goals, a decision I personally disagreed with. The situation has taken a positive turn recently with Vogel successfully converting all 3 of his field goal attempts (Long of 38 Yards) and has maintained a perfect 4/4 on Extra Points. Further, his kickoff performance was outstanding, averaging 76 yards over four kickoffs, with three of them landing inside the opponent's 35-yard line. On top of all that, he also scored his second touchback of the year, now tying for the most touchbacks in the USFL. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how Vogel closes out the remaining 4 Weeks of the Season.
2. Derrick Dillon - Returner - Memphis Showboats - 1 FG Ret / 109-YD TD - 1 KO Ret / 49YD
Derick Dillon delivered an exceptional performance, surpassing all other Special Teams players this week, and was deservedly awarded the Special Teams Player of the Week for Week 6. To begin the game, Dillon electrified the crowd with a 49-yard return on the opening kickoff, setting the tone for his team. Then, he surprised everyone by returning a missed field goal an astounding 109 yards to the house for the first Kick-Six in league history! Not only did Dillon excel on special teams, but he also made several highlight reel catches for the Boats throughout the game, solidifying his impact. It is undeniable that Dillon's role within the Special Teams unit will continue to expand in the coming weeks, further showcasing his immense talent and value to the team.
3. Brandon Wright - Punter - Memphis Showboats - 6 Punts - 41.7 Avg. - 4 In. 20Y
Brandon Wright continues to dominate the league with his remarkable performance, as he further solidified his position at the top of various statistical categories this week. Demonstrating his proficiency, he punted 6 times for a total of 250 yards (41.7 Avg.) and 200 net yards (33.3 Net Avg.). Astonishingly, 4 of those punts landed inside the 20-yard line (66.7%) and 1 punt travelled over 50-yard yards. While it's worth mentioning that he registered two touchbacks, it should be noted that one of those unfortunate outcomes was not entirely his fault.
1. Chris Blewitt - Kicker - Pittsburgh Maulers - 0/2 FG
Although Chris Blewitt has had a remarkable season thus far, going 10/10 on field goal attempts, he certainly slipped up this week missing both of his field goals. It's important to note that he faced a daunting task, as both of these misses were from 50+ yards out but the coaching staff might have placed excessive trust in him when they decided to attempt a 58-yard field goal, which unfortunately resulted in a Kick-Six for the Showboats. While I don't anticipate these misses having a significant impact beyond Blewitt's stat sheet, it is worth considering the potential psychological effect this may have on him in the upcoming week.
2. Cam Echols-Luper - Punt Returner - New Jersey Generals - 1 Return - 0 Yards
2.5 Corey Coleman - Punt Returner - Philadelphia Stars - 1 Return - -1 Yards
Punt Returners Cam Echols-Luper and Corey Coleman both struggled this week. Echols-Luper had 1 punt return for 0 yards while Corey Coleman had 1 punt return which ended up racking up negative yardage. Poor decision-making on punt returns can greatly impact field position and boost the opponent's Coverage Team statistics. Should've signaled for a fair catch there guys.
3. Lirim Hajrullahu - Punter/Kickoffs - Philadelphia Stars - 2 Punt - 37 Avg. - 5 KO - 65.6 Avg
Kicker Lirim Hajrullahu was brought in last week, in a somewhat controversial move, after incumbent Kicker Luis Aguilar went 8/8 on field goals. I had accurately predicted that Lirim would assume the punting and kickoff duties for the Stars. However, I wasn't particularly impressed by his performance in his first week. He punted 2 times for 74 yards (37 Avg.) and 67 net yards (33.58 Net Avg.). On a positive note, 1 of his punts remained inside the 20-yard line. Additionally, Hajrullahu handled kickoffs, averaging 65.6 yards on 5 kicks. Unfortunately, all of these kicks were returned past the 35-yard line, with two of them resulting in returns of over 30 yards. For me to fully support the decision to replace Aguilar just as he was gaining momentum, I would need to see consistent improvement from Hajrullahu week after week.
Thank you for taking the time to read my work.
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