Special Teams Breakdown: Gators have talent to be special

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Florida place-kicker Jorge Powell working for the starting job. Matt Stamey/Staff photographer

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 upside

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.

The downside

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.

Quotable

“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

K

98-Jorge Powell OR

19-Evan McPherson

P

88-Tommy Townsend

97-Jon Gould

86-Jacob Finn

LS

41-Ryan Farr

49-Jacob Tilghman

48-Brett DioGuardi

H

88-Tommy Townsend

97-Jon Gould

KOR

32-Adarius Lemons

89-Tyrie Cleveland

4-Kadarius Toney

20-Malik Davis

PR

4-Kadarius Toney

16-Freddie Swain

23-Chauncey Gardner-Johnson

Ranking the SEC special teams

Auburn

Georgia

Alabama

Missouri

Florida

South Carolina

Texas A&M

LSU

Tennessee

Kentucky

Ole Miss

Mississippi State

Arkansas

Vanderbilt

14 COMMENTS

  1. Great article. Gotta win the kicking game. I personally hope our kickoff return guys see very little action, but the punt return unit is gassed by the end of the game! We’ll see what happens with the kickers. You never really know how someone will perform underpressure until they do.

  2. Interesting that last year’s placekicker was taken off the Alabama recruit commitment list and this year’s likely placekicker was recruited out of the state of Alabama. And I hope Malik Davis is not returning kicks this year. He does not need flying special teams players diving at his knees.

    • seems like a rotation would be the way to do it, spreading the injury risk. since the nfl likes special teamers in its roster decision process, hopefully most of our guys can get special teams duty to build up their resumes and have special teams return to being an advantage for the program.
      imo mac was better at special teams than people think, calloway, the kickers, and a lot of good. eventually the credit card thing hurt. for a while champ seemed to understand the importance of special teams but once Dan Quinn left, well, we had come back a lot but the real unraveling occurred then.

      • Mveal 2006. Yes. McElwains special teams were very special in the wrong categories. When a FG kicker can boot it 50+ yards you utilize him not keep him on the bench. His offense was a failure with who he had running it but his utilization of his kicker was pathetic.

  3. Look forward to seeing the “special” put back in team play. It’s been anything but for awhile.

    ST plays turn games and swing momentum. It’s an edge this squad will need this year to meet fan expectations.

    • Mtn, I’ve been waiting for someone to mention this aspect. I’ve been watching football for a lot of years and a long punt return will change momentum in about 5 to 7 seconds. Don’t for the life of me know why its been ignored.

  4. I like how similarly CDM runs his program like Meyer when he was here. He’s like Urban 2.0. I just hope he’s an upgrade and wins like Meyer did but with a little more character and class (same for the players). Everything CDM does feels just like it did back in the Meyer days. I’d love for those feelings to turn into wins so I can enjoy watching Gator football again.