UF position breakdown: Special teams indeed

Florida punter Tommy Townsend holds the ball for kicker Evan McPherson during the spring game in April at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.[Cyndi Chambers/Gainesville Sun Correspondent]

We break down the 2019 Florida football team by position group. Our final breakdown is a look at the special teams.

The upside

The actual kicking aspect of special teams could be as good as any in college football with punter Tommy Townsend and place-kicker Evan McPherson. Both are proven. Both are highly productive.

Last season, Townsend averaged 45.39 yards a punt and consistently flipped field position in Florida’s favor with his booming boots.

McPherson may have had an even better season. He was nearly perfect on his field-goal attempts (17 of 19, even though it should have been 18 of 19 with that missed official’s call in the loss to Kentucky) and was perfect on his PATs (50 of 50). He also played a role in field position. Of his 81 kickoffs, 45 were for touchbacks. And he did this as a true freshman.

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The Gators also have some potential game changers in the return game. Senior wide receiver Freddie Swain took over as the punt returner early last season and proved to be a natural — reliable hands and an instinct for finding creases in punt cover teams. He averaged 10.2 yards a return, which ranked 19th nationally. He had an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown against Colorado State and came close to breaking several others.

Kadarius Toney, the fast and elusive wide receiver, also has home run potential as a punt and kickoff returner.

UF has another impressive weapon on special teams — gunner Tyrie Cleveland, who uses his great speed to blanket opposing punt returners.

The downside

The first thing to address is this: Townsend had two punts blocked in the second half against Michigan in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. So, obviously, the Wolverines discovered a flaw in UF’s punt protection team. The Gators need to take care of that problem before the opener or run the risk of having it happen again against a fast and athletic Miami team.

Also, the Gators have basically zero experience backing up Townsend and McPherson and will be breaking in a new long snapper this season.

Young guy to watch

Redshirt freshman Jacob Copeland.

According to his teammates, he’s been making all kinds of plays on offense at wide receiver, and he’ll likely get a shot at returning kickoffs this season along with another explosive playmaker, Kadarius Toney. Not only is Copeland quick and fast, he’s probably the strongest skill position player on the team. If he can stay healthy, something he couldn’t do in his first year in Gainesville, he could have a significant impact in the return game.

Don’t be surprised if …

Against a tough and demanding schedule, the Gators win a game with special teams. Coach Dan Mullen and his staff place an emphasis on special teams — the third phase of the game — and the Gators have the proven kickers and the playmakers in the return game to make a game-changing impact.

Quotable

“Our specialists guys are pretty good. I feel comfortable with our kickers and our punters and our returners. I feel pretty comfortable with those guys, and they have experience. To me, it’s filling in all the other pieces where you’ve lost guys. And we did lose a bunch on special teams. We lost a bunch of starters on special teams. There’s 88 starting positions on the football team. That’s an interesting way to look at it, right? There’s offense, defense, punt, punt return, kickoff, kickoff return, field goal, field goal block. There’s 88 starting spots, and we did lose a bunch of starters if you look at the 88 starting positions.” — Dan Mullen

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or robbie.andreu@gvillesun.com. For a look at the previous breakdowns (offensive backfield, secondaryreceiverslinebackers, offensive line) and defensive line) click to Gatorsports.com.

Probable depth charter

PK

19-Evan McPherson

71-Chris Howard

P

43-Tommy Townsend

86-Jacob Finn

H

43-Tommy Townsend

11-Kyle Trask

KOR

1-Kadarius Toney

20-Malik Davis

15-Jacob Copeland

PR

16-Freddie Swain

1-Kadarius Toney

89-Tyrie Cleveland

" Robbie Andreu : @@RobbieAndreu ."