- How much will the kicking game fall off with new starters in all facets?
One thing is certain going into the 2008 season: an untested rookie will be handling kickoffs, placekicks, and punts for the Virginia football squad. At placekicker, Chris Hinkebein is the heir apparent to Chris Gould. Gould will certainly not be remembered in the same light as his predecessor Conor Hughes, a first team all-ACC selection as a senior. However, he did provide some stability last year and was a known commodity especially valuable with so many close games after an up and down 2006 campaign. Gould made 80% of his field goals last year and while no Kurt Smith, he proved decent off the tee on kickoffs (7 touchbacks, average starting position of 25). He made all 5 FGs of 40+ yards as a senior after going 4-12 from that distance as a junior, and credited a change in kicking style with at least some of his improvement. Hinkebein has followed suit in terms of style, but has no track record other than his high school numbers which came in Charlotte in late 2006.
At punter, Virginia made the switch to the tag-team approach in late 2006, and it proved to be at least adequate, if not effective. Without having the short kicks to bring down his punting average, Weigand ranked 4th nationally last season at 45.2 and was voted second-team all-ACC despite being left of Groh’s nomination list. Gould was solid as well, notching 19 punts inside the 20 with only 3 touchbacks in his 26 attempts. Combined, the team had three blocks and was outside the top 50 nationally in both punting average and net punting average. The singular replacement is Jimmy Howell, a freshman from South Carolina who originally committed to Northwestern, won’t have the benefit of a redshirt year.
I would love to speculate on the potential strengths and weakness of Hinkebein’s and Howell’s kicking legs, but there just isn’t anything to go off. We do know this: experience will not be a strength, and there may not be any other options. For what it’s worth, the Daily Progress did report in January that Howell was encouraged to work on placement kicks in his offseason workouts, but I would be shocked if he were given more than a single responsibly as a true freshman. Look for some walk-ons to be in the mix…
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