Image Credit: ESPNI
With nine starters from the Florida Gators‘ 2015 football team now in the NFL, Florida will be looking for help in all three phases in order to ensure it repeats as SEC East champions after taking the division crown for the first time since 2009 last year.
With summer workouts still weeks away and fall practice even further in the distance, OnlyGators.com is here to take a look at which four players in each phase are most integral to the Gators’ success next season.
Let’s get started with special teams.
Punter Johnny Townsend, redshirt junior: An All-SEC performer and Ray Guy Award semifinalist, Townsend averaged 45.4 yards per boot in 2015, which ranked him third nationally. More important than his strong leg is his consistency, which helped somewhat mitigate the awful offense Florida put on the field at the end of last season. Punters don’t get a lot of love, but Townsend is one of the most valuable players on the entire roster, and the fact that there’s no question mark at this position with so many others on the team certainly helps head coach Jim McElwain sleep a bit better at night.
Returner Dre Massey, junior: Massey has not been named the Gators’ starting returner just yet, but ultimately the 5-foot-9, 183-pound speedster should win the role. He is shifty, athletic and simply talented with the ball in his hands. When you have a playmaker like Massey, you make sure he touches the ball as often as possible, especially if that means avoiding extra (dangerous) reps for someone like sophomore wide receiver Antonio Callaway. Yes, Massey could very well earn a starting role as a slot wideout, too, but where he can step in immediately is in the return game.
Kicker Eddy Pineiro, redshirt sophomore: Pineiro has never kicked a field goal in an actual game. He has not attempted an extra point against a true live rush since doing so as a fill-in while in high school. Yet while McElwain has hedged starting roles at so many other positions, there seems to be no question that the inexperienced Pineiro will be starting for Florida. With a strong leg and seemingly unshakable confidence, Pineiro brings a lot to the table for the Gators. He proved capable in the 2016 Orange & Blue Debut, though as we cautioned at the time, his performance in the spring game ultimately did not mean too much. Pineiro still has to prove that he’s “the man,” and he should actually face some competition this fall from redshirt sophomore Jorge Powell, who should be recovered from his torn ACL by then.
Joseph Putu, junior: A junior college transfer defensive back who did not join the team for spring, Putu needs to get on the field right away and there may be no better way to do that then as a stellar gunner on special teams. Putu had a propensity for forcing fumbles at North Dakota State College of Science (seriously, that’s where he played last year), and while opponent ball security will certainly be better at this level of college football, that’s someone you want laying the smackdown as a gunner.