CHARLESTON – Place-kicking competition is heading into the final preseason week but Eastern Illinois assistant football coach Tony Gilbert is not complaining.
With senior Cody Meyer from Tri-County and freshman Nick Bruno from Daytona Beach, Fla., the EIU special teams coordinator sees good options.
“We feel pretty good,” Gilbert said. “We want to get more solidification in the kicking game but we have a good problem to have.”
While a Saturday mock game might be considered just a dress rehearsal for most players without risky contact before Thursday's opener at Minnesota, kicking competition might be a final determination in who starts as the kicker.
Gilbert expects four of those specialists to make the trip to Minneapolis.
Redshirt freshman Cody Edwards from High Ridge, Mo., is set as the punter while senior Taylor Kerr is back for his job after averaging 47.4 yards on 105 kickoffs last year helping EIU rank third in the NCAA in kickoff return defense.
But still unsettled is the place-kicking duties.
“It's kind of hard,” Gilbert said. “It's who will be consistent. We had basically three guys trying to place kick. Who knows, Taylor Kerr has a good enough leg he could step in and kick.”
Good news is that sophomore AJ Hantak is back as the long snapper.
Last year EIU's special teams hit a downward trend after Hantak suffered a season-ending injury in the fourth game but he is recovered and ready now.
“He is solid,” Gilbert said.
Wide receiver Keiondre Gober and running back Jimmy Lera are kickoff return men for the Panthers while Lera, running back Shepard Little and receiver Adam Drake have been practicing as punt returners.
This would be added duties for the senior Drake, the Panthers' top returning pass catcher from last year's 12-2 season.
Drake returned kicks in his high school days at Charleston.
“He is definitely solid, I can tell you that much,” Gilbert said.
A former 1989 Southwest Missouri graduate who played against EIU when both teams were in the Gateway Football Conference, Gilbert joined new Panthers coach Kim Dameron's staff as a corner backs and special teams coach after holding those roles and recruiting coordinator last year at NCAA Division II Southern Arkansas.
Gilbert gave a rather clear statement of his special teams philosophy.
“No penalties,” he said. “And be smart in the kicking game. That's the big one. We basically want to just get the ball and get it to our offense's hands. If you have penalties you won't be on it.”