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.


“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


19-Evan McPherson

71-Chris Howard


43-Tommy Townsend

86-Jacob Finn


43-Tommy Townsend

11-Kyle Trask


1-Kadarius Toney

20-Malik Davis

15-Jacob Copeland


16-Freddie Swain

1-Kadarius Toney

89-Tyrie Cleveland


  1. Lemme see…..so the narrative is that Michigan, totally dominated by Florida in virtually every phase of the game, managed to block two punts in the second half against…..well, we’re not told whether it was against
    Florida first teamers or second string substitutes…..but that should be taken as a fatal flaw which of course a far superior team such as Miami will certainly exploit and presumably use to defeat us. OK, good point, I’m sure. But somebody should inform Dan Mullen of that post haste as it has probably been overlooked by the coaching staff and they now have precious little time left to correct the flaw that — gasp, I shudder to think of it let alone say it — that allowed a consensus Top-10 team like Michigan to actually have the temerity to block a couple of punts against another Top-10 team.

    I think I’ll go back to reading the Houston Chronicle story about all the inequality in college football, since Southwest Louisianna doesn’t have the resources, financial or otherwise, to field a team that can compete with Clemson or even Notre Dame. Or I could just claim that GrumpyGator is channeling thru me and go take a nap instead.

    • I dunno, 6, I think Robbie’s written a very favorable and accurate assessment of the Gators’ special teams. He even says he thinks special teams might win a game for the Gators this season, so I think your fixation on the only negative point is a bit of an over-reaction, especially since the point is accurate. I don’t think any Gator wants to see two blocked punts in Baton Rouge or Jacksonville this year.

      Even as the hometown beat writer, I think it’s Robbie’s job to cover the team objectively. Given your own high standards of personal integrity, I’m certain you’d prefer it that way as opposed to a local hack who ignores the team’s warts and blows smoke up the hind parts of the players, coaches and fans. I think it was you, yourself, who predicted it would take CDM until 2020 to make the Gators serious contenders for the NC, so when Robbie, or Dooley for that matter, writes an objective article that may temper expectations, I think he’s just agreeing with you. On the other hand, if CDM can make the playoffs and win a NC this year, by all means, Go Gators!

      • I done told you, Joe…..ol’ Grump E Gator was a-channeling thru me that day! Either that or I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. A case of bifurcating polarities, as it were. Or was. I forget.

        No, but seriously I had a serious over-reaction to a very small mouse turd of a detail, and wound up pole vaulting right over that sucker. I realized that later the same day, but by then I had already stepped on my own poncho liner….too late. But thanks for kindly pointing it out, old buddy. A-pur-shate it! Google the psychological mechanism called “displacement”.

        • I noticed the reference to Grump E Gator after posting my reply. Makes no difference, though, because I respect your comments, agree or not. As for Googling “displacement”, I’ll pass. When I did that for “bifurcating polarities”, just reading the summaries of the hits I got made my head explode. There was even one hit that said, “50 Sexy Photos Ivanka Trump Never Wanted You To See”. Just in case my wife reads this, I didn’t click on that one, Honey! Wait a minute…was that a reference to politics? My bad.

  2. What a difference coaching makes. I’m so desperate for Gator football that I watched the 2017 Michigan game again. My apologies to anyone I ever criticized for their critique of the Mcelwain era. GOOD GOD IN HEAVEN HAVE MERCY!!! How did any of us survive watching Florida football through those years. Thank God for real coaching in all facets of the game. The special teams reminded me of watching a really bad high school team. I don’t think we had a kick off return that got past the 20 the entire game. The winless ’72 Groveland Greenbacks were more organized. At least they looked like they were trying.
    Win or lose next Saturday, I know we have a team that has the coaching and character and discipline to carry us into battle. Go Gators!

    • Galvez I was at that embarrassment in 2017. Saw it painfully with my own eyeballs. I’m one that is a critic of Mac. Was at the SEC championships too. So yes it’s been a breath of fresh air to have great coaching descend upon us.

      • It has indeed, 65…..but the poor devil is just now finding out that the Gators don’t have a chance against Miami unless in the little time left he can figure out how to defend against blocked punts. Really, somebody somebody was sitting on this information for 8 months and they didn’t bother to tell him? I guess his plan will have to be one where we don’t punt at all. Come to think of it, that should work out pretty well if we keep scoring touchdown every time we have the ball. Punt? We don need no stinkin’ punts!