Florida kicker Eddy Pineiro attempts a 49-yard field goal during the Orange and Blue Debut last week at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. He missed, but had a standout first season in Gainesville. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]
Spring review: Position-by-position breakdown of UF's special teams
Now that Florida’s Orange & Blue Debut is in the books, it’s time to reflect on the 15 days of spring and project where the Gators might find themselves heading into the fall.
Here’s a position-by-position look at the special teams:
Getting it done: It was a workmanlike spring for punter Johnny Townsend and place-kicker Eddy Pineiro. The two consistently did their job, just like they did throughout last season. They form probably the best kicking combination in the SEC, and maybe the nation. Townsend averaged 47.9 yards a punt last season and consistently flipped field position and made opposing offenses go long distances to reach the red zone, while Pineiro was clutch throughout his first season, making 24 of 28 field goal attempts and, like Townsend, producing favorable field position with his kickoffs. The two will carry a great deal of confidence with them into the offseason following a positive spring that saw both improve.
Still needs work: In the kicking phase of special teams, the main thing is for all involved to continue working on timing, something that has been going on between long-snapper Ryan Farr and the two kickers. This is an area that has steadily improved over the last year, but can always be a little bit more efficient. The Gators also need to start building depth at punter and place-kicker.
Spring star: Pineiro was the star of last year’s spring game, but the overall special teams star for this spring goes to Townsend, whose booming punts and ability to pin teams inside their own 15-yard line make him one of UF’s best and most consistent weapons. He punted only once in the spring game, and, no surprise, it sailed 57 yards with no chance of a return.
Spring surprise: Maybe the biggest surprise came late in the fourth quarter of the spring game, when the usually reliable Pineiro clanged a 49-yard field goal attempt off the right upright. It was a letdown for a crowd that was expecting a make and ready to explode with its “Eddy, Eddy, Eddy” chant.
Projected starters: Townsend (P) and Pineiro (PK).
The skill players
Getting it done: Despite having many skilled athletes and playmakers on the roster, the Gators produced little in the return game last season, and improving in that area was a spring priority. UF tweaked its schemes and took a look at many options in the return game. During one practice nine different players returned kickoffs and punts, so it’s clear the coaches are determined to find a combination that will result in more explosive plays in 2017. Dre Massey, who was limited to non-contact work, is back returning kickoffs, something he did in the spring game. He has the speed and elusiveness to be a home-run hitter in the return game. Antonio Callaway, who missed last spring and went on to struggle in the punt-return game last season, worked hard this spring to regain his 2015 form, when he returned two punts for touchdowns.
Still needs work: Other than the kickers, the Gators are looking to significantly improve in all areas of special teams, especially in the return game and the kick block game. In 2016, UF produced close to nothing in the return game. Callaway’s longest punt return was for 39 yards, while the longest kickoff return, also by Callaway, was for 44 yards on an onside kick for a touchdown against Missouri. There were no kickoff or punt returns for touchdowns. UF also has done little to nothing in terms of blocking kicks or punts over the past two seasons.
Spring star: Because the Gators did not go live in the return game in practice or the spring game, it’s hard to identify a star. Two potential stars would be Massey and Callaway.
Spring surprise: Massey wanting — or willing — to return kickoffs after sustaining a season-ending ACL injury returning the opening kickoff last season. Massey said a few weeks ago that he was over the mental hurdles that come with his injury. That became obvious when he returned kickoffs in the spring game, even though the kickoffs were not live and he was not hit.
Projected starters in the return game: Massey (KOR, PR), Brandon Powell (KOR), Lamical Perine (KOR), Callaway (PR) and Freddie Swain (PR).
The specialists (long snapper, holder)
Getting it done: The timing between Farr and Townsend has steadily improved over the course of the past two seasons, and we saw more of the same during the spring. The guy who benefits the most from that excellent timing is Pineiro, who is now right in rhythm with his snapper and holder.
Still needs work: At this stage, it’s just a matter of the two veterans, Farr and Townsend, fine-tuning their craft, something they will continue to work on over the summer.
Spring star: Speaking of stars, for those who consider them meaningful in recruiting, will be interested to know that Farr, a walk-on, was a five-star long snapper coming out of high school. And he’s lived up to the lofty ranking, starting every game the past two seasons and evolving into one of the SEC’s best long snappers.
Spring surprise: There really wasn’t one. As Jim McElwain would say, Farr and Townsend just did their job.
Projected starters: Farr (LS), Townsend (H).
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.
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