2020 was all around not a great year for the special teams unit, with lows coming in Purdue’s last two contests, in which the Boilers gave up 21 points on special teams miscues. Brohm has stated that they spent large portions of the spring and summer shoring up the special teams and will feature more starters on units in 2021. In addition to all the offseason work on special teams, Purdue has brought in a new set of kicking specialists in place kicker Mitchell Fineran and Aussie style punter Jack Ansell. Purdue learned the hard way that when special teams make errors the margin of error for a win goes right out the window. Look for second year special teams coordinator Marty Biagi to right the ship and turn special teams into a weapon this fall.
Mitchell Fineran – Kicker
With the departure of JD Dellinger, Purdue opt’d to fill the void via the transfer portal this offseason with the addition of kicker Mitchell Fineran from FCS program Samford. Fineran was a second team All-American at the FCS level last year when he made 15 of 18 field goals and was 7 for 7 from 40 yards or longer, including a 50 yarder. During his career he 32 of 43 on field goals and 109 for 111 on PATs. Fineran will look to prove the bright lights of the Power 5 level are something he can handle this fall and be a weapon from deep.
Jack Ansell – Punter
After a season of inconsistency at Punter, Purdue has brought in Jack Ansell, a 23 year old Aussie rules football player from Warrnambool, Australia. Ansell was a participant in Prokick Australia, a development camp founded in 2007 to help Australians get a shot at playing in college and the NFL. The Big Ten as a conference has seen significant success bringing over Australian punters and at this point many fans have seen it done at the collegiate level. What makes Aussie punters so good is that they are used to kicking on the run, off balanced, or with odd grips on the ball. This is vastly different from traditional pro-style punting, where the pocket doesn’t move and it’s intended to be a simple repeatable motion. There isn’t much tape of Ansell to go off of online, but I think the biggest question will be his ability to assimilate to American Football and handle the bright lights of Ross-Ade tomorrow night.
Nick Zecchino – Long Snapper
You haven’t heard Nick Zecchino’s name much before and that’s a good thing. Rule number 1 of being a long snapper: If people know your name, you’re not doing it right. (Unless you’re catching 25 yard throws from your punter for a first down). Great job Nick! Zecchino has participated in all 18 games since he transferred to Purdue, and will get a trip back to the program he left for the Boilers at UCONN in week 2.
Due to Rondale Moore’s injury in 2020, TJ Sheffield became the heir apparent return man on kickoff. Last year Sheffield fielded 19 kickoffs for 397 yards, that’s good for about 21 yards per kick. His long return game came against Nebraska when we returned a kickoff for 41 yards. Purdue plans to play more starters on special teams this year and with Sheffield’s added development look for that average yards per return to creep up throughout the year. In addition to TJ Sheffield, we expect Jackson Anthrop to get some returns at either kickoff or punt return units. Anthrop has been a steady hand, especially in the more difficult fielding of punt returns in the past and should Purdue have any issues with ball security Anthrop will likely be the go to ensure that ceases to continue. Purdue track star Marcellus Moore appeared in one game in 2020 and is likely the fastest option Purdue will have in the return game. Reports indicate Marcellus has dealt with some injuries, but should be ready to gear up tomorrow. True freshman Ja’quez Cross is another name that could pop onto the radar and potentially see action in 4 games this year while retaining his redshirt. Cross will definitely depend on if the staff thinks he has bulked up enough and prepared to take a hit on kickoff safely.