The Florida Gators are a month away from debuting what they hope is a revamped offense and a reloaded defense.
But the Gators have one phase of the game where just about everything remained consistent: Special teams.
Florida returns all of its key players from its third phase of the game, and each will play a pivotal role if the Gators want to take another shot at an SEC championship.
Here’s a closer look at Florida’s top special teams players:
Kicker Eddy Pineiro
Eddy Pineiro enrolled in Florida without ever attempting a field goal in a live game. He turned into a fan favorite and gave the Gators’ kicking game a newfound sense of life after three disappointing years with Austin Hardin.
Pineiro made 21 of his 25 field goals last season, including 12 straight to close out the season. He hit 11 field goals from at least 40 yards out. A former high school soccer standout, Pineiro found the accuracy needed to complement his powerful right leg as the season progressed and he will surely get his share of field goal opportunities in 2017. Fans readily cheered his name as he lined up for a field goal or kickoff attempt.
Pineiro also has a chance to crack a slew of kicking records, including but not limited to most consecutive field goals (17 — Bobby Raymond, 1984) longest field goal (60 yards — Chris Perkins, 1984) and career field goal percentage (87.8 percent — Raymond, 1981-82).
Punter Johnny Townsend
Townsend, a redshirt senior, was one of 10 finalists for the 2016 Ray Guy Award last season and has a chance to crack the finalist list this year. In 2016, Townsend led the nation in punting average (47.9 yards), 29 of his 64 punts went for at least 50 yards and 27 of his punts pinned opponents inside their 20-yard line. His ability to flip the field salvaged the Gators’ offense when it sputtered out at various points last season and gave the defense a leg up when he forced the opponent to start the game inside its own red zone.
Heading into his final season, Townsend already owns most of Florida’s punting records — career average yards per punt (45.7), season average yards per punt (47.9 in 2016) and most punts in a season (83 in 2015).
Junior wide receiver Antonio Callaway is expected to be Florida’s punt returner despite a major drop-off in production during his sophomore year. After averaging 15.5 yards per punt return as a freshman — the fifth-highest mark in the nation in 2015 — Callaway managed just 8.4 yards in 2016. Callaway has the speed and agility to succeed in the return game if he can find a lane.
As for kickoff returns, Florida has a slew of candidates. Wide receiver Dre Massey, who played just one half in 2016 before suffering a season-ending right knee injury, is the top candidate.
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