This is the final story in a series of seven breaking down the 2018 Florida football team. For a look back on the series, click http://www.gatorsports.com/home-page/florida-position-breakdown/
A preview of the Florida special teams entering head coach Dan Mullen’s first season:
The Gators have a lot of fast, physical athletes — and now they have a head coach who not only emphasizes special teams, but is hands on in all phases.
Dan Mullen’s commitment to special teams has been obvious throughout preseason camp. The Gators have practiced extensively on special teams every practice, and many of the top players are competing for playing time on them.
In the right scheme, the Gators could be explosive in the return game with Kadarius Toney, Adarius Lemons, Malik Davis, Tyrie Cleveland and Freddie Swain.
Florida also expects to block some punts and kicks, a phase of the kicking game that seemed to be ignored by the former coaching staff.
Dating back to the spring, Mullen has been stressing how important the special teams are, and it appears the players are buying in, which should be evident on the field this fall.
In a potential reversal from last season, the actual kicking phase of special teams is the question mark, while all the other phases — returns, kick coverage, blocking kicks — could be the strength.
The kicking part is the unknown because the Gators have to replace one of the best kicking combinations in school history in punter Johnny Townsend and place-kicker Eddy Pineiro.
The two, who are both now with the Oakland Raiders, were the strength of special teams the past two years and replacing them is going to be a big challenge.
Townsend is handing off the punting duties to his younger brother, Tennessee transfer Tommy Townsend. Tommy has exhibited some of the same punting skills as his older brother, but one thing he continues to need to work on is matching his brother’s consistency.
The Gators do not have a proven replacement for Pineiro, who was one of the nation’s most accurate field goal kickers last season.
Young guy to watch
Place-kicker Evan McPherson. The true freshman was ranked the nation’s No. 2 kicker coming out of Fort Payne (Ala.) High School. The former Mississippi State commitment displayed a powerful, accurate leg in high school. During his senior season, he made a 60-yard field goal and had an 84-yard punt, so the power is there.
Don’t be surprised if …
The Gators score on special teams, and in more than one way. With more of an emphasis in all phases of special teams, UF, with its many skilled athletes, has a chance to take some kickoffs and punts the distance. The Gators also are determined to block some kicks this season, which would lead to a quick six going the other way.
“We’re going to call on guys. We’re going to invest a lot of time on special teams, we’re going to make sure everyone in the program is invested in special teams, every player understands the importance of it. And that’s a phase we want to try to be really strong at is our special teams phases. And that’s the big picture of special teams. I know sometimes after a game, ‘Boy, bad special teams day we missed a field goal.’ There’s so much more to it than that or a bad punt. The specialists sometimes get the most attention, but there’s a lot of plays that can be made on special teams with attention to detail on the technique.” — Dan Mullen
Probable UF depth chart
98-Jorge Powell OR
Ranking the SEC special teams