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.