On Monday morning, with the first team meeting of the year, a new Florida football team was born, the 2020 team. How this team evolves into what it eventually becomes will be determined over the next seven or eight months.
As the players take their first dive into Nick Savage’s offseason strength and conditioning program, The Sun is offering an early peek at the 2020 Gators.
Today: Special teams.
Who’s gone: Punter and holder Tommy Townsend, long snapper Jacob Tilghman.
Who’s back: Junior place-kicker Evan McPherson.
Who’s new: True freshman punter Jeremy Crawshaw, an early enrollee from Australia.
Who’s on the way: None.
What’s next: McPherson has been Mr. Reliable for the Gators, converting 34 of his 38 field goal attempts over the past two seasons. His consistency and leg strength will make him one of the nation’s top kickers heading into the 2020 season. So, UF is in great shape in that aspect of the kicking game. Where there is uncertainty is at punter. The Townsend brothers, Tommy and Johnny, spoiled the Gators over the past six seasons with their strong legs and ability to consistently flip field position. Tommy averaged 43.98 yards a punt last season. Both Townsends were reliable holders. So, the Gators will be looking for a new punter and holder in the spring, along with a new long snapper. Crawshaw is a highly rated prospect who will battle junior Chris Howard and senior Jacob Finn for the starting punting role. All three also will likely get a look at holder. Senior Brett DioGuardi and sophomore Marco Ortiz will be competing for the starting role at long snapper.
Who’s gone: Freddie Swain (kickoffs and punts), Josh Hammond (punts).
Who’s back: Kadarius Toney (kickoffs).
Who’s new: Toney (punts), Jacob Copeland (kickoffs), Malik Davis (kickoffs), Ja’Markis Weston (punts).
Who’s on the way: Incoming true freshmen Fenley Graham and Jaquavion Fraziars. Graham was a dynamic kickoff and punt returner at Lakeland High School, while Fraziars, who is from Dunnellon, has the speed, hands and athletic ability required in a punt returner.
What’s next: The Gators will be looking to get more production out of the return game in 2020. Last season, Swain was a reliable punt returner in terms of making the catch, but he didn’t do much after that. The Gators averaged just 4.53 yards per punt return. The kickoff return team wasn’t much of a factor, either. Thanks to so many touchbacks now in college football, the Gators returned only eight kickoffs last season for a 23.0-yard average.
Who’s gone: Starting wide receivers Van Jefferson and Tyrie Cleveland, who were so effective as the gunners on the punt cover team.
Who’s back: Wide receiver Rick Wells, who excelled on kickoff coverage last season, along with Quincy Lenton and several others.
Who’s new: Incoming freshman safety Rashad Torrence, an early enrollee, has a chance to earn immediate playing time this spring.
Who’s on the way: Several incoming freshmen who will get a chance to contribute, including Jahari Rogers, Ethan Pouncey, Avery Helm, Mordecai McDaniel and Tre’Vez Johnson.
What’s next: The coverage teams were strong last season, and the Gators expect that trend to continue with the number of fast, athletic players on the roster. The first priority will be to replace the two gunners on punt returns, Jefferson and Cleveland. Starters likely again will fill those roles. The Gators gave up just 1.29 per punt return last season, so that’s a tough standard for this year’s team to match.