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Wednesday, November 14, 2012
The Big Board: Plan C on punt returns

By David M. Hale

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It's been three-and-a-half months since Greg Reid left Florida State, and his legacy still looms large.

Kenny Shaw
Kenny Shaw might be the next Florida State player to get an opportunity to be the Seminoles' punt returner.
The loss has been minimal in the secondary. Ronald Darby and Nick Waisome have proven to be capable replacements, and the defense has chugged along with few setbacks worth noting. On special teams, however, there remains a gaping void caused by Reid's absence.

Florida State will head to Maryland this week with yet another new plan for fixing the disaster that has been the punt return game, a situation where Jimbo Fisher has asked relatively little, and the results have still fallen short.

"We have to iron it out," Fisher said. "We'll work with some guys. But there's not a lot of punt return guys."

Fisher has certainly tried his share of options.

It started with Rashad Greene, who returned two punts for touchdowns but also coughed up two more for turnovers.

Three weeks ago, Fisher turned return duties over to Tyler Hunter, and he found similar results. Hunter's first return against Duke went for a touchdown, but another went for a fumble. Against Virginia Tech last week, he fumbled another, and Fisher decided he'd seen enough.

So now, it's Plan C, which isn't exactly set in stone either.

"There's still the same guys back there -- Rashad, Kenny Shaw, [Hunter]," Fisher said. "We're doing different things, keep getting them reps."

The plan, according to the men who've held the job, might be for two players to work on returns this week, with Greene and Shaw potentially being on the field at the same time, cutting their responsibilities in half.

Fisher didn't exactly confirm that scheme, but it has its benefits, Greene said. Maryland punter Nathan Renfro is last in the ACC in punting average, but Greene said he sprays the ball all over the field. Given FSU's problems with decision making and positioning, splitting the return duties in half might be an effective strategy.

"Having two returners, it's not as much pressure," Greene said. "One guy has one side of the field, and the other guy has the other to help protect him and make a better decision."

As Fisher has rightly discussed, it's not simply the turnovers that have been the problem. The decision making has been poor, and as bad as Hunter's fumble against Virginia Tech was, the decision to let another short punt bounce for a hefty dose of lost yardage proved even more problematic.

"That’s decision making -- not just catching, but then making a poor decision. That’s very disappointing," Fisher said. “That’s something that we’ve done so well around here. I concentrate on field position wars. That’s critical. I put a lot of emphasis on that."

The numbers speak to Fisher's concerns.

Three of FSU's last four games have included an average starting field position of its own 31 or worse and an average starting field position following a punt of its own 30 or worse. Of the eight times the Seminoles have been pinned inside their own 10 following a punt, five have come in the last three weeks. In four of the last six games, Florida State hasn't had a punt returned for more than six yards.

Add in the four fumbles and two blocked punts on the other side, and it's easy to see why Fisher hasn't been satisfied with the results.

Whether the new approach yields better results, however, remains to be seen. And if not, perhaps next week will bring about a Plan D.

"It's basically who wants the job," Greene said. "Things happen sometimes, and you just have to move on from it. All of us are focused in on the job and trying to win the job."