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Thursday, February 21, 2013
State of the Noles: Special teams

By NoleNation Staff

When it comes to recruiting, coaches need to be thinking long-term. It's not just about which holes must be filled immediately, but rather where the needs might be in two or three more years.

With that in mind, NoleNation writers David Hale and Corey Dowlar are going position by position, looking at what FSU has on its roster now, and who might provide reinforcements down the line, projecting starters and evaluating the depth through 2015.

Up next, we take a look at the key contributors on special teams.

Current scholarship kickers and punters (2): Cason Beatty (So.), Roberto Aguayo (RFr.)

Potential early departures: Among the bevy of potential kick and punt returners for FSU, there are a handful of early departure candidates, with Karlos Williams being the one with the most immediate potential. But even Williams has plenty of developing left to do, so there's no logical candidate to make an early exit.

Predicted starters: (Hale's picks/Dowlar's picks)
2013: Beatty (P), Aguayo (K), Lamarcus Joyner (KR), Kenny Shaw (PR)/Beatty, Aguayo, Williams, Rashad Greene
2014: Beatty, Aguayo, Marvin Bracy, Levonte Whitfield/Beatty, Aguayo, Bracy, Greene
2015: Beatty, Aguayo, Bracy, Whitfield/Beatty, Aguayo, Bracy, Whitfield

Why they'll start: Projecting Beatty and Aguayo is easy, since there's not really any competition on the roster. Beatty had a rough start to his FSU career as a freshman in 2012, but he appeared to come on as the season progressed, and he averaged better than 40 yards per punt in his final three games. Aguayo has a strong leg, and he drew praise from Dustin Hopkins throughout 2012, but those are huge shoes to fill. The bottom line is that FSU's kicking game is likely to take a noticeable step back in 2013, which means Jimbo Fisher also might need to tweak some of his third-down play calling, too. Long term though, both Beatty and Aguayo have the potential to be solid, perhaps very good, specialists.

Ronald Darby
Ronald Darby could be in line for a shot at the punt return job next season.
It's in the return game where FSU has some bigger questions. Williams and Joyner teamed to provide exceptional production at kick returner again in 2012, and that figures to continue. At punt returner, the Seminoles had some big plays, too, but thanks to a rash of fumbles, they never settled on a consistent starter at the position, with Greene, Shaw and Tyler Hunter all getting looks.

Those three figure to be in the mix yet again in 2013, but they'll be pushed by a handful of young speedsters with big upsides. Ronald Darby saw only limited action as a returner last year, as he was getting acclimated to a significant role in the secondary, but he could be in line for a shot at the punt return job this season. Bracy is perhaps the fastest player in college football, and FSU would love to find ways to get the ball into his hands in space -- both on special teams and on offense. He'd fit at either return job, but if Fisher decides to play it safe with Joyner during his senior season, Bracy seems like a logical fit returning kicks. Freshman Levonte Whitfield has speed to rival Bracy and Darby, and if he can work his way into a few reps as a slot receiver on offense during fall camp, there's no reason he shouldn't find a niche in the return game, too.

Bracy, Whitfield and Darby -- along with freshmen Jalen Ramsey and Ryan Green -- all should be in the mix in the return game for the next three or four years. FSU has speed to spare, which figures to play well in all facets of special teams.

Who might FSU add: Florida State typically doesn't recruit out-and-out return men. Instead, they look for speed from other positions that might overlap depending on what specific position they are recruiting.

One offered player that fits that mold for 2014 could be Speedy Noil (Edna Karr/New Orleans), but the Seminoles face an uphill climb to land him. JoJo Robinson, a commitment from Northwestern in Miami, potentially could return punts, but it is far too early to say with any degree of certainty.

Long-term grade: B+. It's probably too much to expect Aguayo or Beatty to reach the same levels as the men they replaced, but both offer potential, and FSU appears set at the specialist positions for the next few years. While there aren't any definitive answers yet in the return game, Fisher has done such a fine job of recruiting top-level athletes that the problem is more about narrowing down a wealth of options than filling a major need at any position.