Editor's Note: Welcome our new intern, Scott Crumbly.
Following Greg Reid’s sensational freshman year in 2009 when he led the nation in punt return average, it was obvious that teams were going to do anything they could to keep the ball out of his hands in return situations.
Reid saw his return average dip from 14.9 yards in ’09 to 9.8 yards last season despite the fact that Florida State’s opponents punted the ball significantly more than they did during his freshman campaign. In 2009, FSU’s porous defense forced opponents to punt the ball away just 48 times all year. That number improved to 65 last season in the first year under D-Coordinator Mark Stoops, who helped the Seminole defense improve from 107th in the nation to 41st by year’s end.
Although teams punted the ball more often, the percentage of returnable balls that Reid saw come his way decreased due to his performance as a freshman. Of the 65 total punts by FSU opponents last season, Reid returned 32 of them—only 49 percent. Teams began to punt the ball out of bounds (it happened 14 times) and forced Reid into fair catches by kicking the ball higher (he made 11 FCs last season compared to 5 the previous year). When Reid returned just 26 balls in ’09, he had a chance to make something happen on 54 percent of opponents’ total punts.
Another factor that contributed to the decline in Reid’s numbers was his tendency to try to force plays rather than taking what was given to him.
In September of last year, Jimbo Fisher said that he was happy with Reid’s production in the return game. Later in the year, however, it was clear that Reid—who knew that his return opportunities would be limited—was trying to force big returns when they simply weren’t there.
Against Boston College, Reid managed to lose 13 yards—yes, 13—on a single return attempt. Against North Carolina, he fielded four punts and lost yards on three of them (He also lost 6 yards on a return against OU, but that was due to a muff rather than running backwards). If he can learn to cut his losses and go down when he has nowhere to run, he has the ability to get his numbers back toward where they were in 2009.
Despite his drop in average, Reid still did a good job of hurting teams that punted to him consistently. He got four returnable punts against Virginia and made the Hoos pay with 62 return yards. He turned two opportunities against N.C. State into 46 yards, two against Florida into 48 yards, and two more against South Carolina in the Chik-fil-a Bowl into 53 yards of momentum swinging field position.
Reid’s ability to impact field position is something that could be big for FSU once again this year. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the ’Noles fell from 14th in field position in 2009 to 20th last year when teams made a more concerted effort to contain him.
Part of field position that is often overlooked, though, is a player’s ability to catch every ball to avoid awarding yards to punters on long bounces. Reid excels in this area and allowed only four punts to be downed last year, which is something that Fisher stresses.
“The best punt return guys I’ve ever been around, the thing they all did is they caught all the balls,” Fisher stated last year. “The ball can’t hit the ground. That’s something we emphasize every day. We don’t want that ball hitting the ground.”
Not surprisingly, Reid’s production in FSU’s 10 wins was significantly better than in their four losses, as he averaged 11.5 yards per return in victories compared to just 5.4 per return in losses (although it should be mentioned that he didn’t get a chance to take back any punts against Virginia Tech).