As the season opener vs. Bowling Green approaches, GatorCountry.com is taking a position-by-position look at the 2012 Florida Gators football team.
This will be a eight-part series as we’ll breakdown running backs, receivers, quarterbacks, offensive linemen, defensive linemen, linebackers, defensive backs and special teams in an effort to help fans have a quick guide for what to expect come 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, when the Gators kickoff the 2012 season vs. Bowling Green in The Swamp.
With an offense expected to deal with the growing pains that come with inexperience at the quarterback position, the Gators will be counting on steady defense and special teams.
Through this series, we have rounded out Florida’s defense position by position. In the final installment, we look at the special teams unit.
First, we look at the returners.
As mentioned in the defensive backs edition, Marcus Roberson is expected to return punts. Having missed the end of last season due to injury, the confidence the coaching staff has placed in Roberson is a positive sign he has returned to full health.
Andre Debose is another candidate to return punts if Will Muschamp decides Roberson is not the guy. Currently, Debose is also the kick returner.
In 22 career games at wide receiver, including five starts, Debose has caught 26 passes for 528 yards and four touchdowns — modest numbers to say the least.
However, as a returner, he has been nothing short of spectacular.
He has returned 40 kicks for 1,082 yards, an average of 27 yards per return. Additionally, Debose has the school-record with three career touchdowns.
With a new set of rules moving kickoffs up five yards, it will be difficult for Debose to make plays like he did in the past. However, Muschamp has insisted throughout the offseason that Debose will be encouraged to return as many kicks as possible.
If he is able to work similar magic this season as he has in the past, it will augment the Florida offense.
Speedster Solomon Patton will also be in the mix to return punts and kicks. He will likely serve as the front man to help Debose return kicks, while also offering another outlet for punt returns.
In the kicking game, not much has changed for the Gators from a year ago.
Redshirt senior Caleb Sturgis returns as the kicker, and Kyle Christy will be doing the punting. For his career, Sturgis is 46-for-60 on field goal attempts and 96-for-101 on PATs.
The 46 made field goals places him second all-time in program history. His five made field goals of 50 yards or more are the most in school history.
Christy was the starting punter for the final seven games of the 2011 season. He averaged 40.9 yards per punt last season with a long of 67 yards.
Collectively, the special teams unit will need to step up. Whether it is picking up extra field position or nailing down three points, it is important Florida gets everything it can from the unit.
For the Gators to be better in 2012 than 2011, the defense must be great and the special teams must be solid.
Florida has many playmakers throughout both units; those players will be expected to produce accordingly.