Position breakdown: Special teams
Published: Sunday, August 4, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 11:21 p.m.
PROBABLE DEPTH CHART
97-Brad Phillips OR
4-Andre Debose OR
As the Gators have shown in the past, the actual kicking aspect of special teams is just part of it. That's how UF can lose one of the most consistent and most productive place-kickers in school history (Caleb Sturgis) and still have some of the strongest special teams in college football. It starts with star punter Kyle Christy, but certainly doesn't end there. Christy was one of the best punters in the nation last season at flipping field position and keeping opposing offenses in a hole. The junior has averaged 44.3 yards a punt for his career and has a knack for coming up with boomers when they're most needed. The Gators also have impact players in other phases of special teams, including return men Andre Debose (four career kickoff returns for touchdowns) and Marcus Roberson and all-purpose player Loucheiz Purifoy. Purifoy had a huge impact on special teams last season, coming up with the blocked punt in the final seconds against Louisiana that Jelani Jenkins returned for the winning touchdown and forcing three fumbles on the season on special teams. Purifoy, who blocked one other kick in 2012, also excels as a gunner on punt coverage, and will be one of UF's kickoff returners this season. Purifoy, a starting cornerback who also will play some wide receiver, figures to be on the field more than any other Gator this season. Overall, special teams could be the strength of this Florida team.
The Gators don't appear to have anyone who can match the consistency and production of Sturgis (but then, who does?). In fact, the Gators opened camp Friday still not knowing who their starting place-kicker is going to be. Senior walk-on Brad Phillips and redshirt freshman Austin Hardin were dead-even at the end of spring practice and will continue to compete for the job in camp. Phillips has some experience, having made two of his three field goal attempts in 2011, including one from 43 yards against Georgia. Hardin has zero experience. The reality is, the Gators have a huge question mark at place-kicker heading into the season.
YOUNG GUY TO WATCH
Like many young place-kickers, Austin Hardin has struggled with consistency early in his career. But if he can get that part of his game down, he has a chance to be a big-time place-kicker in the Southeastern Conference. He has a powerful leg and was rated the No. 1 kicker in the nation coming out of high school in 2011 by ESPN. In his senior year at Atlanta Marist, Hardin made 13-of-20 attempts, with all of his misses coming from 50 yards or longer. He has a tremendous leg — and a tremendous upside.
RANKING THE SEC SPECIAL TEAMS
2. Mississippi State
7. Ole Miss
11. Texas A&M
12. South Carolina