LOOKING TO 2014
Gators need specialists to find some consistency
Published: Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 at 8:01 p.m.
This is the final of a 12-part series breaking down the Florida football roster, looking ahead to 2014 and projecting how the Gators might look at each position:
Orange & Blue Debut
The Florida spring football game is set for April 12 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the school announced Wednesday. The tentative start of spring practice is March 19.
WHO’S GONE: Kicker Brad Phillips and kick returner Loucheiz Purifoy.
WHO’S BACK: Senior punter Kyle Christy, sophomore punter Johnny Townsend, senior place-kicker Frankie Velez, sophomore place-kicker Austin Hardin, kick returner Andre Debose, punt returner Vernon Hargreaves III and long snapper Drew Ferris.
WHO’S NEW: Place-kicker Brooks Abbott, a transfer from Virginia Tech who sat out last season and will be eligible in the fall.
WHAT’S NEXT: One of the Gators’ biggest problems last season was the consistently poor performance of the field-goal kickers, and it will continue to be a concern heading into the spring. In 2012, the Gators had Mr. Automatic (Caleb Sturgis, one of the best kickers in school history). But in 2013, the Gators could not find anyone remotely close to being a suitable replacement. Three kickers — Hardin, Velez and Phillips — bounced back and forth trying, but none succeeded. Hardin and Velez combined to make only 10 of 20 attempts, and the Gators had only one successful field goal attempt from 40 yards or longer. Phillips is out of the mix now, leaving Hardin and Velez to compete in the spring. Abbott, who is from Jacksonville, will join the competition in August. The situation at punter is much more promising. Townsend emerged as a consistent performer when he replaced Christy in the lineup last season. Christy, a Ray Guy finalist in 2012, eventually succumbed to an early season slump. But if he can regain his sophomore form, the Gators will have two experienced and proven punters this season. The special teams could receive a huge boost from the return of senior wide receiver Andre Debose, who has returned a school-record four kickoffs for touchdowns.
THE SKINNY: The special teams slipped off the tracks last season and were not a team strength for the first time in several years. The Gators have a chance for a big bounce-back year in 2014 if they can find a consistent field-goal kicker. That’s a big if, though. Florida appears proven and sound in all other areas of special teams.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.