Friday, February 15, 2013
2013 spring preview: Special teams
By David M. Hale
From the impending quarterback competition to finding replacements for departing juniors, Jimbo Fisher will have his work cut out for him during the next few months as he lays the groundwork for the 2013 season.
With that in mind, we're going to go position by position, looking at Florida State's strengths and weaknesses as the Seminoles prepare for spring practice.
Previously: Cornerbacks, wide receivers/tight ends, defensive tackles, and running backs can be found HERE.
Next up: Special teams
2012 recap: Special teams is a pretty broad term, so it's tough to look back on last season and call it a success or a failure for Florida State when, the truth is, it was a little of both. On the plus side, kicker Dustin Hopkins turned in the best season of his remarkable career, setting the NCAA scoring mark for kickers in the process. Lamarcus Joyner and Karlos Williams both were exceptional on kick returns once again, and FSU even accounted for three punt-return touchdowns in its first season without Greg Reid. Of course, the flip side of that was the significant struggles by freshman punter Cason Beatty, including a block against NC State that likely cost FSU the game, a bevy of turnovers on punt returns that resulted in a revolving door at the position, and a truly ridiculous number of special teams penalties (with Williams responsible for a season's worth by himself).
Departures: There are two huge vacancies on special teams for 2013. The first is Hopkins, who was a steady force in the kicking game for four seasons. As it was with punter Shawn Powell the year before, it's tough to calculate the real impact such consistent excellence has on a team, and therefore it's impossible to figure how difficult it will be to replace it. The second is special teams coach Eddie Gran, who left to become offensive coordinator at Cincinnati.
Arrivals: The biggest spotlight will be on redshirt freshman Roberto Aguayo, who expected to grayshirt in 2012 before a late scholarship opened up. He earned heavy praise from Hopkins throughout the year, but there's a big difference between impressive teammates on the practice field and nailing 50-yarders on game day -- something Hopkins did five times in 2012. The return game could be roughly the same as it was a year ago, with Kenny Shaw at punt returner and Joyner and Williams again handling kick-return duties. But with speedsters like Marvin Bracy and incoming freshmen Jalen Ramsey and Levonte Whitfield, there will be a few new faces in the mix, too. On the coaching side, new linebackers coach Charles Kelly will handle coordinating special teams, though Sal Sunseri has experience in the job, too.
Biggest question mark: Aguayo is no doubt the biggest wild card, but it's hardly fair to compare the freshman to his predecessor. To expect Aguayo in 2013 to be anything close to as consistent a weapon as Hopkins is foolish. While he'll likely garner plenty of attention, the better place to look for potential improvement might be at punter. Beatty's 38.3-yard average was worst in the ACC in 2012, but he averaged 40.5 yards per punt over his final three games and figures to improve in his second season.
Breakout star: The field is pretty open, but Bracy -- who is already setting records on the track -- could be a beast in the return game if he gets a chance. Track speed doesn't always translate perfectly to the football field, but if Bracy gets the football with room to run, no one can catch him. Of course, for FSU in 2012, running with the ball on special teams wasn't the issue. The problem was simply finding someone who could catch the football to begin with.