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2014 Season Preview: Special Teams

One of the country's best kick returners and one of the ACC's top punters highlight Carolina's special teams, which figure to be a team strength this season.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

One of the hallmarks of the Larry Fedora era in Chapel Hill has been a focus on special teams, and boy has it paid dividends. It seems like it all started with one punt to Gio, but Carolina's special teams have steadily improved each year under Fedora and are now one of UNC's decided strengths.

Any discussion of the Tar Heel special teams has to begin with sophomore kick returner Ryan Switzer, who tied an NCAA record for punt returns for touchdowns last season and received All-American and freshman All-American honors, as well as being named All-ACC. His five punt returns for touchdowns leaves him only three shy of the NCAA record of eight, and what's even harder to fathom is that Switzer's five return TDs came in the last five games of the season. Given his explosiveness and big-play capability, most coaches and kickers will likely think twice about giving Switzer the chance to take one to the house and claw towards the NCAA record.

A familiar face will continue the place-kicking duties for Carolina as senior Thomas Moore,  who has made 96 of 98 extra points and 22 of 32 field goals over his career, returns as the starter. This will be his third season as the starting kicker since being forced into service full-time after Casey Barth's career-ending injury in late 2012. Moore is a solid, if not spectacular, kicker who has somewhat limited range. He has only kicked one field goal longer than 40 yards, and that was his freshman year. Moore gives you a chance for points inside 40 yards, but that's about all. Handling the kickoff duties and perhaps taking a few swats at field goals will be sophomore Nick Weiler, who took over kickoffs later last season as well.

Meanwhile, senior punter Tommy Hibbard has flown somewhat under the radar on his way to becoming one of the premier punters in the ACC and a key weapon in the Tar Heel attack. Hibbard has once again been named to the preseason watch list for the Ray Guy Award for the nation's best punter, and his precision, especially inside the 20, is a big reason why. In 2013, 25 of his 65 punts were downed inside the 20 and had just six touchbacks. The ability to pin teams deep will certainly help the Carolina defense.

One of the refreshing aspects of Larry Fedora's tenure at UNC has been the emphasis on special teams, which have gone from a hot mess to hot-ness. While there are certainly question marks at other positions, Carolina's specialists are experienced and proven and are poised to contribute to the team's success this season.