Andreu’s Analysis: Return of the special teams at UF

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Florida punter Johnny Townsend (19) shares a laugh with his brother Tommy Townsend, left, after the FSU game last November at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Tommy Townsend will compete for the punter's job in 2018. [Cyndi Chambers/Gainesville Sun Correspondent]

Back when Dan Mullen was Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator at Florida, the Gators not only were known for making big plays on offense and defense, but also on special teams.

The Gators blocked kicks, returned kickoffs and punts for touchdowns, created turnovers and helped out both the offense and defense in so many ways.

There were some special teams stars, like Chris Rainey, Brandon James, Jarvis Moss and so many others.

Recently, the only special teams stars have been the kickers. In the other phases of special teams, there has been a lack of aggressiveness and a lack of big plays — and therefore a lack of stars.

Last season, the special teams were a reflection of their coordinator Greg Nord — sort of laid back and old school.

That’s going to change now that Mullen is back. Mullen is going to put a big emphasis on special teams, just like he did at Mississippi State.

“Yeah,” new special teams coordinator and running backs coach Greg Knox said. “He works with it closely. Not a lot of head coaches will put the time in that he does with special teams. And so I think his impact, he’s right there at the forefront of it. I think the players understand the importance of it. And so that by far is a lot different than a lot of other coaches I’ve been around.”

Knox said a lot of staters will end up playing special teams and that the Gators will try to impact games with an aggressive approach.

So, pretty much the opposite of the past few years under the former coaching staff.

“Everyone has a role and everyone plays a big part in it. Some roles are larger than others,” Knox said. “But everyone has a role, that’s coached included. When I put together a plan, every coach is included and every player is included.

“Dan’s part of it is. Special teams are going to win the game for you. That’s the hidden yardage that no one really calculates at the end of a game.”

Knox certainly will have a lot of special teams expertise to lean on coming up with game plans. Mullen is very involved. And then there’s tight ends coach Larry Scott, who was the special teams coordinator at Tennessee the past two seasons.

But Knox is pretty good on his own, based on his track record at MSU as the special teams coordinator.

Over the past four seasons, since Knox took over the Bulldogs’ special teams, the Bulldogs blocked 14 kicks and punts, the most in the SEC and the third-most in the nation over that span.

While Mullen’s offense is generating much of the excitement among the fan base heading into spring practice, special teams might be something to look forward to also for a change.

 

20 COMMENTS

  1. Multi-dimensional football teams tend to win and excel at football. Coach Mullen has done an excellent job of assembling position coaches and coordinators to create a highly dynamic coaching staff that will lead the Gators back into the WIN column in a very big way. His DC turned MSU’s defense around in a very short time period to become one of the best defenses in the country. GO GATORS!!!

  2. Mullen talks big, but so did his predecessor. Talk is cheap. It is amazing how so any Gator fans fulfill Barnum’s prophecy of there being a sucker born every minute. The pundits, and fans, actually believe, and salivate, every word regurgitated by the latest snake oil salesman. But, like every other fairy tale told since tebow left, words mean absolutely nothing.
    I don’t think Mullen is much of a coach. He is arrogant, but I see no reason for it. UF is a has been, and Mullen is a second rate coach. Perhaps there’s a reason no one wanted him until both Tennessee and Florida, in desperation, offered him a better job than the backwoods of college football which is Starkeville. I think it won’t take long to see that he isn’t but a guy riding Urban Meyer’s coattails. I know what kind of coach he is. I’ve seen Mississippi State play for nine years under him, and it wasn’t impressive. It was only two seasons ago that Mullen lost to South Alabama at home. That’s the level he took eight years to achieve. I don’t think he’ll get that long in Gainesville.
    I’ll become a believer if he achieves a victory over FSU next year, something that hasn’t happened in Gainesville since he was here working for Meyer. Until then, I believe not a single bit of the propaganda coming from his lips. Let’s see if he can turn the bum, Felipe Franks, into a good QB, first before thinking he’s not just the latest mediocre coach hired by UF.

    • What new coach doesn’t talk optimism, bf? You are just a troll…we get that…but your dissertations should at least have a semblance of reality. One…Muschamp got the W in Tallyho (unless you think Mullen was on his staff). Two…the improvement of our program doesn’t need a false narrative, FSU victory to qualify so-called success in year one. FSU has a better program…we get that. So does, UGA, BAMA, Auburn, etc. Marked improvement in the trenches and on the field play may not garner overnight success. No one comes in and wins in year 1 in this scenario. Besides Spurrier who came from Duke to UF, not many coaches take over a broken program and turn them into contenders in year one. Saban won 6 games in year 1. Year 2 is where he made the jump. Florida took it to UGA in year one of Kirby, only to look like we didn’t being on the field in year 2. Culture takes time….so go back to the drawing board and come with some new, VALID material.

    • I suppose the coaching staff could be quiet and just not say anything, because that’s a good strategy at building the program. I see you still haven’t seen a therapist yet Mikey. It would do you some good. They could prescribe some meds that would really improve your quality of life.

  3. Harsh analysis, but your general point is well taken. I think Mullen is a good hire under the circumstances who will do well in time, but let’s wait and see. Oh, and the FSU game is in Tallanasty, so not likely we’ll take that one.

  4. Only spoiled Gator fans would expect good special teams. The expectations here are so unreasonable! (The Gainesville Sun this time last year when they were trying to hype Mac and his sad and pathetic coaching efforts)

  5. Being a Gator fan since 1958, I’ve seen a lot of Gatorball, some of it pretty bad but nothing has been more disappointing than the last the last 3 years under Coach Mac. His strategic approach of having a passing-only QB can only work in today’s game if you have lots of 5-star players that always play hard – something even Alabama has abandoned for a run/pass QB. Add the poor coaching, lack of player development and his nonsensical utterings whenever he was interviewed and it was obvious that it was time for a change. As everyone has noted, so far its only talk from the new coaches but the talk is serious and directed at the effort the players need to make to be successful. After watching a few Miss. St. games over the last few years, I saw teams that played hard and were very competitive – like last year’s game against Alabama. Coach Mullen and his staff have shown that they can develop 2 & 3 star players into a competitive team in the mighty SEC West. Add to that Coach Mullen’s philosophy of using duel-threat QBs to make the defense account for 11 offensive players on every down and that the Florida brand along with his coaching staff will allow him to recruit and sign many of the better players in the state, all have the Gators pointing in the right direction again. We have an experienced, coach and staff and the necessary elements to make it successful sooner rather than later.

    • Well stated. We need some common sense from fans who need to temper expectations and realize where we are currently. Those ridiculous expectations already surfaced on boards during the signing day..not acknowledging who we are and that de-commitments happen during coaching changes. Mississippi State is a HARD place to not only recruit, but win…and he did that, which was impressive. Other than Jake Sherrill, it has generally mostly a place where coaches go to die. There is a pecking order in the SEC…and they usually find themselves behind Bama, LSU, Auburn, and Arkansas prior to the Wisconsin guy that just got the ax. Any one who can’t see that doesn’t know SEC football.

    • Great post. My only concern is in-state recruiting. UM and FSU have as strong a brand as UF (if not stronger) so I worry about our ability to consistently draw top homegrown talent. Time will tell…but my fingers are crossed.

  6. THANK YOU JACK!

    I GET SICK OF ALL THE NEGATIVE COMMENTS ABOUT THE PAST.
    NO NEED TO SAY ANYTHING, BUT YOU MUST JUST SAY THEY DID NOT MEET EXPECTED UF STANDARD.

    REAL GATORS ARE ABOVE THAT NEGATIVE STUFF.

    I BELIEVE IN OUR CURRENT TEAM AND COACH, BUT EITHER WAY I SUPPORT THEM.

    GO GATORS

    • Me, too. I try not to criticize the players because they are kids who are only good as the coaches who are teaching and developing them. Zook and Muschamp were solid coaches when compared to some of the other joker coaches who have been there – Addazzio, Nord, McElwain, and Nussmeier come to mind

  7. I’m excited about Dan Mullen’s focus on special teams.
    On our Championship teams we made big plays on special teams that changed field direction, caused fumbles and scored points. The close games against the top teams are usually won on special teams- Jarvis Moss, case in point. The reason we remember the Jarvis Moss blocked field goal is because it was special..that’s why the call them “special teams.”
    Congratulations to Coach Mullen for getting involved and putting a talented coach on special teams.
    Our renewed preeminence on special teams can’t be too far ahead. GO Gators!