Friday, February 14, 2014
FSU room to improve: Special teams
By David M. Hale
The celebration of a BCS championship victory is in the rearview mirror for Florida State, and Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston and Co. have already turned their attention toward adding another trophy in 2014. So as Florida State preps for spring practice, we’re digging into the biggest questions, position battles and storylines facing the defending national champs.
This week, we’ll look at the five position groups with the biggest question marks looming in advance of spring practice.
Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo was nearly perfect on field goals (21 of 22), converted on all 94 PATs and could force touchbacks with his kickoffs.
Special teams are something of a broad category, and in several areas, Florida State was a monster in 2013. Whitfield was a revelation in the kick return game, racking up 36.4 yards per return, including two touchdowns. Aguayo was just as impressive in his first year as the team’s kicker, connecting on 21 of 22 field goals. But in other areas, there was an obvious shortcoming. Kenny Shaw handled the bulk of punt return duties, and while he was consistent, he was rarely great. He averaged 9.7 yards per return -- down about 5 yards from the team’s average in 2012. Meanwhile, Beatty continued to struggle in his second year as the team’s punter, finishing last in the ACC in net punting (35.4 yards/punt) in 2013, with his struggles particularly exposed in the BCS title game.
Williams was a fixture in the kick return game throughout the past three seasons, but with his new role as the starting tailback (and only RB with much experience), it remains a question how much Fisher will utilize him on special teams. Greene was a playmaker as a punt returner in 2012 but muffs forced him to the bench. With Shaw gone, he could get another look this year. While there’s a plethora of speed throughout FSU’s roster that could find a role in the return game, Green is among the top options among the younger players.
Fisher’s focus on recruiting speed at the skill positions means there are plenty of options in the return game both on the current roster and among the new faces inked in the Class of 2014. Harrison and Marshall are among the top choices and both figure to get a look on scrimmage downs and coverage teams as well, adding some incentive to forego a redshirt.
What to watch: The battle to replace Shaw as punt returner should make for some interesting battles both in spring and fall camp, but Florida State has so much talent on the roster that the options are plentiful. The bigger question is how much Fisher will rely on veterans in those jobs -- particularly Williams and Greene -- given their significant roles on scrimmage downs. The one area where Florida State has a real concern and, likely, no clear alternative on special teams is at punter, where Beatty showed only minimal improvement in his second full year as the starter. It’s possible Fisher could give a look to a walk-on, and he at least gave some lip service to QB J.J. Cosentino's history punting (a highly unlikely scenario for myriad reasons), but odds are it’s Beatty’s job still, regardless of his previous struggles. In 2013, the punting woes were easily overcome by an avalanche of blowout wins (FSU averaged 3.0 punts per game, fewest in the nation), but as the schedule improves in 2014, that’s a luxury the Seminoles can’t assume they’ll have again this season.