As the Gators wrapped up their first week of fall camp this weekend, head coach Will Muschamp talked about how the special teams unit is shaping up.
Florida is just beginning to practice most of its special teams work, including the return game, but Muschamp already knows one thing for sure.
“We’re going to play our best players on special teams,” he said. “Injuries happen, that’s part of the game. We’re going to play our best players on special teams. I told the guys that from the day one meeting. Our best guys are playing. If it affords us to win a football game, then we’ll do it and that’s part of the game.”
Most of the usual names highlight the special teams unit, but one starter just about nobody would consider on special teams has also gotten a look for the Gators.
That’s 6-foot-3, 239-pound tight end Jordan Reed, who apparently now doubles as a punt returner.
“Jordan Reed’s a guy that can return punts,” Muschamp said. “We’ve put him back there. You’re talking about a guy his size of catching it and getting vertical on a gunner is pretty exciting.”
While Muschamp said Chris Rainey would be the starter if the season began today, the new head coach feels very confident with the redshirt sophomore tight end’s ability back there.
The Gators may use him in a role similar to the one backup quarterback Logan Gray played for Georgia, as a safe hands return man inside the 20 yard line.
“He’s got great ball judgment, catches the ball extremely well,” Muschamp said. “I think as we progress through this, we’ll see how much we’re able to do with it.”
So how exactly did the Gators come up with the idea to use such a big, physical player back there?
It was a team effort by the offensive coaching staff that brought Reed’s potential as a return man to special teams coordinator D.J. Durkin’s attention.
“You’re looking for great ball judgment,” Muschamp said. “That guy, you’re looking up and those guys are covering that thing and they’re coming down there, you’ve got to have a guy that’s got some guts. He certainly has that, and the offensive staff actually presented it to us and we think that would be a great move.”
After trying it out, Muschamp came away pretty impressed. The Reed experiment was a success on Saturday, when he got his first action.
“Of course he goes out there the first one and he sucks them all up,” Muschamp said. “He’s very natural.”
The guys in front of Reed as punt returners are a little more explosive.
Rainey is the current starter and a trio of other players have taken reps there. Those guys are Solomon Patton, Frankie Hammond, Jr., and Marcus Roberson, who Muschamp called “a pleasant surprise.”
At kick returner, last year’s starters are all returning at the position.
Muschamp said Andre Debose, Jeff Demps and Patton are the top three guys returning kicks right now.