Breaking down the depth chart: Specialists

We started our depth chart breakdown series over two weeks ago and after profiling each position group on both offense and defense we put the cherry on top with a look at the specialists.

Florida enjoyed stellar special teams for most of the past decade. Urban Meyer made every aspect from kicking field goals to blocking punts important to his football team and Will Muschamp carried that into his first two seasons.

Losing the steady leg of Caleb Sturgis left Florida without a reliable kicker. The Gators 54.5% field goal percentage was second worst in the SEC last season after finishing in the top-3 in the conference in the previous two seasons.

Punting was also an issue. Coming off of an All-American season, Kyle Christy lost his touch before getting yanked for freshman Johnny Townsend. Florida finished with a 40.88 yard-per-punt average in 2013, 3.8 yards fewer than the season before.

The kickers struggled, but the issues didn’t stop there. Florida blocked one kick last season. That’s fewer blocked punts/kicks than the previous six seasons.

There’s only one-way to go and that’s up. Let’s take a look at who will be leading the special teams resurgence in 2014.

Place kicker: Austin Hardin (R-So.), Francisco Velez (R-Sr.), Jorge Powell (Fr.), Brooks Abbott (R-So.)

Hardin is Florida’s lone scholarship kicker but was replaced and platooned with Velez last season. Hardin seemed to have corrected an issue where he would fall off to his left when kicking and performed much better in the spring than he showed during the 2013 season.

He’s still nowhere near where Caleb Sturgis was in terms of accuracy but it was good to see marked improvement this past spring.

Velez will compete with incoming freshman and fellow Miami native, Jorge Powell and transfer Brooks Abbot for the starting job.

This job is completely and entirely wide open. Someone will have to win the job this summer and fall.

Punter: Kyle Christy (Sr.), Johnny Townsend (So.)

Kyle Christy’s 2013 last season was more than a head-scratcher, it was unfathomable. A year after being a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, Christy couldn’t find his touch at the beginning of the season and then had his confidence shattered when he was ultimately replaced by a freshman.

The good news for Gator fans is that we saw the 2012 version of Christ this past spring — booming punts sent 50 and 60 yards down the field with enough hang time to bring down rain with the ball. Christy worked tirelessly with a personal kicking coach after the season and he’s ready to put the 2013 season behind him.

Johnny Townsend was a late addition to the 2013 recruiting class and he was very complimentary of Christy when I was able to speak to him the day he committed to in 2013.

Townsend performed well — especially for a player who was supposed to redshirt and learn behind an All-American — and went kick-for-kick with Christy this spring. Ultimately, I think the best case scenario would be to have Townsend redshirt this season (as he was supposed to last season) and have Christy — a senior — handle the punting duties this year.

Will Muschamp says he has two NFL-caliber punters on the roster and a redshirt for Townsend would give him an extra year with that caliber of punter.

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Nick de la Torre
A South Florida native, Nick developed a passion for all things sports at a very young age. His love for baseball was solidified when he saw Al Leiter’s no-hitter for the Marlins live in May of 1996. He was able to play baseball in college but quickly realized there isn’t much of a market for short, slow outfielders that hit around the Mendoza line. Wanting to continue with sports in some capacity he studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. Nick got his first start in the business as an intern for a website covering all things related to the NFL draft before spending two seasons covering the Florida football team at Bleacher Report. That job led him to GatorCountry. When he isn’t covering Gator sports, Nick enjoys hitting way too many shots on the golf course, attempting to keep up with his favorite t.v. shows and watching the Heat, Dolphins and Marlins. Follow him on twitter @NickdelatorreGC


  1. What would be the best scenario is that the punter and kicker won’t matter much. That means scoring touchdowns and only punting occasionally. The median in scoring is near thirty points per game, I’m hoping UF is near that. It’d be nice to do even better than the median, but you have to walk before you can run.

    • When you play a schedule like the one we have you must have good kickers. There’s going to be punts in games against Bamer, LSU, USCe, Jawja and FSU. Field position is key in those games. Also, since the games could be close, a PK is equally important. We are not going to score 30 points on all of those teams. It would be nice – just not realistic. I hope the new ST Coord can bring the magic back. We need to intimidate every kicker. If we don’t block the kick/punt, we need to force them to make mistakes. Special Teams is a very critical part of the team.