Gators Have Special Teams Unit To Match Special Season In 2020
At some programs, the special teams unit only seems important when it’s a three-point ball game.
At Florida, that’s far from the truth. Dan Mullen makes the special teams unit feel, well, special.
During team meals, the special teams unit is the first to make their plates.
Gimmicky? Maybe. But Mullen sets the tone for current and future special teamers: You guys are important -- not just when the game is on the line, but whistle to whistle.
And in 2020, a special season to say the least, Florida’s special team unit is slated to pick up right where it left off in the 2019-20 season.
Place kicker Evan McPherson is bound to be the backbone of the unit, which is seeing a number of new faces take the field this fall.
Coming into his junior season, McPherson has posted some familiar numbers.
Getting the nod as a freshman, the Alabama transplant went 17-for-19 on field goals in 2018. He then went on to match those numbers stroke for stroke in 2019.
Point being, 89.5% is worthy of a B+, and with the right professor, maybe even an A.
Fortunately, Dan Mullen has no problem bumping his kicker in the upper tier.
“I have unbelievable confidence in him,” Mullen said of McPherson during Wednesday’s SEC teleconference. “I think he’s the top kicker in college football.”
To date, the junior’s career long is 50 yards, meaning the line of scrimmage was the 33 yard line.
However, Mullen revealed Wednesday that he had seen McPherson knock one in from 67 yards out in practice.
In short, it’s obvious that Dan Mullen trusts his kicker. And it seems that anything inside the opponent’s territory might be fair game for the junior specialist.
During the offseason, freshman Aussie Jeremy Crawshaw and redshirt senior Jacob Finn went toe to toe to win out the punting and holding duties.
In the offseason, Mullen was forced to replace firestorm specialist Tommy Townsend. And Townsend, who now punts for the reigning Super Bowl Champions, left big shoes to fill for Crawshaw and Finn.
According to the week one depth chart, Townsend is set to be followed by Finn.
Finn, a Jacksonville native, has appeared in just two contests since walking on in 2016. However, his mere two punts averaged 45.5 yards. This is compared to Townsend’s career average of 44.8.
After all, Finn has done all of his learning behind both Tommy, and the older Townsend, Johnny.
However, if push comes to shove, little downfall is expected from Crawshaw.
Hailing from down under, Crawshaw has adapted quickly to American living -- Including growing a mullet. But on the football field, his years of playing “footy” are sure to pay off if and when his number is called.
In perhaps the most exciting change of personnel in the special teams unit, athlete Kadarius Toney is set to haul in a majority of the returns for the Gators.
Sometimes called the “human joystick”, Toney is sure to be lethal from back deep. He follows in the footsteps of current Seattle Seahawk Freddie Swain, who returned a majority of the punts for the Gators in 2019, and current Denver Bronco Tyrie Cleveland, who he split kick returns with.
Swain proved to be pretty reliable during his time hauling in punts. With 22 returns, Swain averaged 10.2 yards per return. He also ripped off an 85-yard return for a touchdown against Colorado State in 2018.
But if we’ve learned anything about Kadarius Toney in his Florida career, it’s that he’s just as capable -- especially in the open field.
In 2018, Toney returned six kick returns for 133 yards, averaging out to 22.2 yards per return.
His 2019 season was hindered with injury, but his time in 2018 (and even his limited time in 2019) reiterated just how electric the Alabama native is.
His 10 receptions in 2019 went for 194 yards and a touchdown. More impressively, however, is the fact that Toney isn’t a deep route runner. Instead, a majority of those receiving yards come from passes that were caught at, behind or near the line of scrimmage.
Toney's success with screen passes only solidifies that he is capable of immense damage when in the open field or behind a wall of blockers.
Though the Gators are set to unveil a new selection of specialists, to expect a digression in production is unreasonable.
No matter how special the circumstances are in 2020, not much will change in the way of Dan Mullen’s special teams unit. Just as the name suggests, it’ll be special.