GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Speaking after practice Wednesday, Florida special teams coordinator Greg Nord suggested to reporters that they would know as well as him as to who is in the mix for kick returning duties this year.
“What did we have on the list today? We worked nine guys today,” Nord said. “Chauncey (Gardner Jr.) caught them today, Antonio (Callaway) caught them, every one of our starting receivers, every one of them. At the same time, those may not be the guys we use because of all the other things.”
All the other things includes depth at those respective positions and where the Gators can and can’t afford to risk an injury to a key player taking on the extra responsibility of returning kicks.
That’s an especially sensitive matter for the Gators, who spent last August touting the potential that junior college transfer Dre Massey could bring as both a slot receiver and kick returner only to see him tear an ACL returning the opening kickoff of the season.
Massey is back going through spring practice and is also back in that mix again to return kicks.
“We’ll leave that up to him. I’d never take a guy and say, ‘You’ve got to go back there and return kicks’ if that’s how you’ve been hurt,” Nord said. “He came to us wanting to get back on it and get on it. Today was one of the days we actually worked him there some.”
Florida had four different Gators return multiple kicks last season, including receivers Antonio Callaway (33.3-yard average on 3 returns), Brandon Powell (14.0-yard average on 2 returns) and running back Lamical Perine (21.5-yard average on 4 returns) before settling on senior receiver Chris Thompson (21.8-yard average on 13 returns).
The lone touchdown from that group came on a fluky on-side kick return by Callaway, who also serves as the Gators’ primary punt returner and top offensive weapon.
Nord gave no indications as to who the coaches prefer in that role for 2017, mainly because it sounds like they genuinely don’t know yet.
“It’s been a position, you know, that we haven’t had one guy go grab the bull by the horn and be the guy,” Nord said. “We’ve had a couple of guys go in there. We (were) hoping Dre would be that guy last year, and you know he gets hurt early, then another guy gets hurt, and we’ve got a guy that now if we get him hurt on kickoff coverage we’re in trouble at his position. So, it’s a position that we have to continue working on.”