New Orleans Saints positional previews: Special Teams

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Jan 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; New Orleans Saints kicker Kai Forbath (5) reacts with teammates after kicking the game winning field goal against the Atlanta Falcons during the fourth quarter at the Georgia Dome. The Saints defeated the Falcons 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; New Orleans Saints kicker Kai Forbath (5) reacts with teammates after kicking the game winning field goal against the Atlanta Falcons during the fourth quarter at the Georgia Dome. The Saints defeated the Falcons 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /
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We’re at the end of our positional previews for the New Orleans Saints, and the last look is all about the special teams.

Special teams have become a subtle thorn in the team’s side, as this very underappreciated, yet vitally important group can spell all the difference in the world for an organization. But before I get too far into this preview, be sure to check out the previous entries if you want to get caught up.

Most fans think to themselves, “You have one job,” when it comes to a kicker or punter. This fundamental area of the game has mainly seen its fair share of disappointment in the kicking game, as the Saints went 18-for-26 (69 percent accuracy) in 2015.

A preseason battle between Zach Hocker and Dustin Hopkins ended in the Saints siding with the wrong choice. Hopkins went on to shine for the Washington Redskins, while Hocker only lasted six games for the Saints after going 9-for-13 and missing an extra point.

The Saints would then turn to veteran Kai Forbath, who also coincidentally went 9-for-13 with the team, but did kick two game-winning field goals against the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons. Forbath was brought back in the offseason, and it appeared that he would battle Josh Scobee for the starting job. Unfortunately, that was very short-lived, and Connor Barth was signed to compete.

Although small, let’s take a look at the special teams unit.

Kai Forbath, 5th season

Kai Forbath became the 10th active kicker the Saints have used dating back to 2006 when he signed with the team last year. There was some big opportunities missed last season, especially in the home games against the Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers where a field goal could have made a difference. Forbath was erratic, as he shocked us with his leg strength against the Houston Texans when he booted through a 57-yard field goal. Thus far, Forbath has been adequate in OTAs and minicamp. Quite honestly, the starting job is his to lose.

Connor Barth, 9th season

In a domed atmosphere, Connor Barth is pretty good. In his career, Barth is 23-for-24 in 13 games, and has never missed an extra point. That’s particularly a good sign for his chances, as he will absolutely push Forbath for the starting job. Barth’s fate was sealed when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shockingly traded up in the 2nd Round to take Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo, someone I thought the Saints could potentially target if he were to last. Barth’s veteran experience, especially in high-pressure situations, could help him earn favor with Sean Payton. The kicking situation is a crapshoot at this point, and all we care about is getting the right one.

Thomas Morstead, 8th season

Not having a completely healthy Thomas Morstead took its toll last year, as a strained quad injury forced the coveted punter to miss the first games of his career. His value wasn’t only in his punting, but also as the team’s kickoff specialist. Forbath tried his best, but could never replicate how easy it was for Morstead to boot kicks into the end zone. Doubling his role certainly takes a toll on Morstead, but the former 2009 fifth-round pick still finished 10th in the NFL in net punting average. The New Orleans Saints must have Morstead’s best in 2016.

Justin Drescher, 7th season

Arguably, the most overlooked piece of a team’s 53-man roster is the long snapper. Justin Drescher has played in all 16 games each season since 2011. The only thing Drescher may have to watch out for is Air Force tight end Garrett Griffin, who had backup duties in college. However, that’s a very long shot prediction at this point in time.

Return Specialists

As for the primary kick return specialist, one has to believe that it’s a wide open competition. Running back Marcus Murphy is likely the main man to start, and it’s encouraging that he’s out to prove that he can do more for the Saints on offense. Outside competition in the way of Tommylee Lewis and running back Travaris Cadet could push Murphy closer to the roster bubble.

On punt returns, Murphy would also get the nod. However, he must fix the turnover issues. C.J. Spiller, Brandin Cooks, and Jairus Byrd are backups who mostly fielded punts that were going to pin the Saints deep inside their territory.

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