Before spring practice began, GatorCountry took a look at the top eight position battles to keep an eye on during spring practice. Now that spring is over, we’ll take a look at how those position battles played out over the past couple weeks.
One of, if not the most important position battle this spring, was at kicker.
Will Muschamp joked after last season that the team was going to try and find an extra year of eligibility for Caleb Sturgis. After watching what his kickers did this spring, Muschamp might actually start making some phone calls to the NCAA to inquire about Sturgis’ eligibility.
Replacing Sturgis is no easy feat. Sturgis was so good while at Florida that he completely changed the way offensive coordinator Brent Pease called plays. When the Gators got around the opponent’s 35-yard line, they were already in field goal range. Rather than taking shots down the field, Florida had the luxury of calling conservative play calls, knowing they could almost guarantee at least three points with Sturgis kicking.
The two kickers trying to replace Sturgis, senior Brad Phillips and redshirt freshman Austin Hardin, struggled with consistency throughout the spring and this position battle is far from over.
With both kickers attempting each field goal one after the other, the kicking battle had a very public and urgent tone to it during the Orange and Blue Debut.
Beginning with Hardin, he was impressive in the two days we saw him during open practice. He has a good, strong leg and the ball really jumps off of his foot. Once practice was closed to the media again, reports out of spring camp were that Hardin was struggling with his consistency and often missed left. We saw some of that again in the Orange and Blue Debut. By my count, Hardin made roughly 64% of his attempts in the Orange and Blue Debut, with most of his misses going left.
Now, take that percentage with a grain of salt, as most of those kicks came in warm-ups. Hardin connected on 3-of-4 kicks during scrimmage snaps with his only miss coming on his last kick. His last kick came after the offense worked a 1-minute drill.
The clock was set with 1:18 left in the game, the offense started at their own 36 with two timeouts. The offense drove down the field but Hardin’s attempt from 33-yards out bounced off the upright.
As only a redshirt freshman, Hardin is still very green. He has the power to be able to hit field goals from 45+ but needs to work on his accuracy.
Phillips, a senior, is the other kicker in contention for the starting job. Phillips is 2-of-4 on field goals during his career at Florida. While Phillips has spent the past three years backing up Sturgis, this is his opportunity to become Florida’s placekicker.
Like Hardin, Phillips struggled with his consistency this spring. Unlike Hardin, who normally missed left, Phillips was less picky about where he missed. By my count Phillips made just 59% of his attempts during the Orange and Blue Debut, again most of those kicks came during warmups so take the percentage with a grain of salt, but he was missing left and right all day.
When it came down to the scrimmage snaps, Phillips converted 3-of-4, including his final kick that came at the end of the aforementioned 1-minute drill.
The problem with this position battle isn’t lack of talent, both Hardin and Phillips have more than enough talent to be successful kickers at the college level, it’s consistency. After enjoying such an accurate kicker for most of the past four seasons, it’s going to take some getting used to not having good ‘ole number 19 trotting out for field goals in 2013.
Will Muschamp said he was pleased with the talent he has at the position but stressed consistency.
“We put the kickers in a lot of situations today.” Muschamp said. “Obviously Brad and Austin both have the ability to kick at a high level for us. We’ve just got to do it more consistently.”
This is a battle that could very well loiter through the summer, fall and into the regular season. As we stand now, it wouldn’t be surprising to see both kickers play against Toledo in the opening game.