John Denton's Knights Insider Spring Preview: Special Teams and Tight Ends

March 17, 2010

By John Denton

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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - No part of UCF's football team was more dominant and consistent last season than a special teams coverage unit that was among the best in the nation.

And that success, Knights special teams coach Tim Salem said, didn't come by accident.

``It happens because we put an emphasis on it from the very first day,'' Salem said.

When combining punt yards, kickoff coverage and kickoff and punt return yards, UCF ranked eighth nationally and first overall in Conference USA by a wide margin.

It was UCF's coverage units that were the most effective. UCF ranked seventh overall in net kickoff coverage, giving up just 46 yards a game. And the Knights were even better covering punts, ranking fifth in the country at 32 yards a game. Not only did UCF not give up a punt return for a touchdown all season, but the Knights yielded a miniscule 2.29 yards per punt last season.

Salem said UCF's willingness to put its best athletes on coverage units combined with the players' fearlessness led to the success with the coverage units.

``Nowadays, there are some trainwrecks out there and some nasty collisions,'' Salem said. ``The difference is most teams would have four or five guys doing and we'd have 11 guys going hard on the returns.''

True freshman Quincy McDuffie gave the Knights a true weapon in the kick return game. The Orlando native used his blazing 4.4-second speed to average 24.79 yards per kickoff return. He took the kickoff to open the second half against Samford in the opener back 95 yards for a touchdown. And in the St. Pete Bowl against Rutgers, McDuffie had an electric 65-yard return against Rutgers that came within one more block of a touchdown.

The Knights are expected to try Freshman All-American cornerback Josh Robinson as a returner this season. Robinson considers former UCF superstar Joe Burnett as one of his heroes, and wants to make more of an impact next season as a punt and kickoff return specialist.

Salem also coaches UCF's tight ends, another of the Knights' strongest spots on the team. In Adam Nissley and Ricky Kay, UCF has a talented duo of blockers and pass catchers.

Kay, a senior-to-be who has played in 37 games, has been one of the steadiest Knights the past three seasons. Coaches love his gritty mentality, and he's already been one of the team's leaders throughout the offseason conditioning drills. Kay caught 15 passes last season, two of which went for touchdowns.

Nissley, a redshirt junior next season, has all the tools to be a future star for the Knights. At 6-foot-6, 264 pounds, he is one of the strongest players on the team and an elite-level blocker.

And Nissley was one of the Knights who made the most improvement as the season progressed. He caught just about everything thrown his way and averaged 15.9 yards a catch.

Now, the Knights are expecting Nissley to blossom into a stellar player next season, possibly an all-conference performer.

``It took Adam four games to realize what he should be doing and the big word that we used with him after he was playing so-so was `assertive,''' Salem said. ``As we go back and watch the tapes, you see the progress that he made. He's had a really good offseason with the weight room, getting stronger even though he's already a pretty strong kid. We'd like him to take off from where he left off. And he should.''


John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.edu.