According to Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rankings, Florida State’s special teams were the eighth-best in the country last season on a play-for-play basis. However, according to their FEI rankings, which go much further in depth, Florida State’s special teams ranked 67th in efficiency last season. The unit’s kick return efficiency ranked 53rd, and their punt return efficiency 112th. While FSU’s kickoff efficiency was a respectable 26th, their punt efficiency ranked 107th. The Seminoles’ average starting field position on offense, measured in yards to the end zone, ranked 81st. Their defensive starting field position? 101st. That left FSU’s average net starting field position ranked an unacceptable 90th in the country.
But you don’t need numbers to know FSU’s special teams struggled mightily last season, and virtually right from the opening whistle. Let’s revisit the Alabama game in Week 1 of last season, shall we? Ricky Aguayo had a 37 yard field goal attempt blocked just before halftime. On Florida State’s first possession of the second half Alabama came in untouched and blocked Logan Tyler’s punt, recovering the ball at the FSU six-yard line. Alabama kicked a field goal, and on the ensuing return Keith Gavin fumbled, giving Alabama another possession with great field position. As if that wasn’t enough, Jimbo Fisher also had to burn a timeout to avoid a penalty for too many men on the field for a punt return, and then later linebacker Matthew Thomas got penalized for a late hit on a fair catch. A disastrous night for this unit spiraled into a disastrous season.
They were coached by Jay Graham, who also split time coaching running backs. Graham followed former head coach Jimbo Fisher to Texas A&M and is the Aggies’ current running backs coach.
FSU’s new Special Teams Coordinator is Alonzo Hampton, and Coach Hampton will have plenty of work to do to in improving this unit and practice reports have indicated special teams has been a major focus for this coaching staff. Hampton has worked with Head Coach Willie Taggart for six of the last eight years, first coaching defensive backs at Western Kentucky before leaving for a short stint to coach in high school before rejoining Taggart in 2015 to coach defensive backs at South Florida. Hampton has been with Taggart since then, joining him on his Oregon staff before moving back to Florida. Hampton has prior experience coaching special teams under Taggart with USF in 2016. That year South Florida’s special teams efficiency ranked 72nd, but at FSU Hampton will have access to higher quality players.
There are four long snappers on the roster: Redshirt Senior Ken Burnham, redshirt sophomore Tanner Adkison from Godby High School, and two redshirt freshmen in Garrett Murray from Tampa’s Plant High School and Grant Glennon, who attended nearby Lincoln High School.
Burnham’s brother Will was on the 2013 national championship team, and Burnham saw snaps in two games in 2017, vs Delaware State and in the bowl game against Southern Mississippi. Adkison spent some time last season on the scout team.
A recent practice report appeared to show Grant Glennon snapping to Logan Tyler as they practiced punting from their own end zone. That may indicate Glennon has the inside track for the starting job.
Florida State will carry two punters into the 2018 season with incumbent Logan Tyler and newcomer Tommy Martin.
The 6’0 junior out of Nixa, Missouri was recently named to the Ray Guy Award Watch List. Last season Tyler handled punting and kickoff duties. His punt average last year was 42.3, an improvement on his 2016 average of 40.3, but still ranked just 52nd nationally. He also had a 61 yard punt against Duke, besting his personal long of 57 in 2016, and was second in the ACC in 2017 in punts longer than 50 yards with 19. On his kickoffs he had 40 touchbacks, down from 57 in 2016, but still good for 2nd in the ACC and tied for 23rd nationally. Tyler also attempted two field goals in 2016 going 1-2 and making a 53 yarder on his first attempt, but did not attempt any field goals in 2017.
Martin is a 5’11 redshirt freshman from Chesapeake, Virginia. Martin redshirted in 2017, contributing to the scout team.
In practice this season offensive lineman Chaz Neal and defensive end Janarius Robinson have been the two main blockers for Logan Tyler.
Gone are the days of Tarvarus McFadden returning punts. The following players have experience returning kicks and/or punts, or have practiced there this season in camp, including a punt return drill where the player starts lying on their back and catches the ball with one arm. The purpose of the drill is to force the player to concentrate; to quickly react and locate the football in the air, and then with a second football tucked in one arm, make the catch with the other arm. Florida State’s average punt return was 8.2 yards last season, while their opponent gained an average of 12.7 yards. While FSU had a slightly better average returning kickoffs than their opponents, they were still out-gained in total yards on the season.
The 6’3 213 pound receiver from Crawfordville has been an electric kick returner since he stepped on campus. In the 2017 Orange Bowl versus Michigan following the 2016 season Gavin took his first kick return 66 yards, setting up Florida State’s game-winning score. In 2017 he totaled 178 yards on seven returns, including an 81 yard return that also set up a score against Wake Forest. Gavin has also reportedly been involved with practicing punt returns this season.
The 5’10 156 pound sophomore from Jacksonville, FL is a former four star recruit and has the most experience on the roster returning punts. Last season Matthews was FSU’s leading punt returner, hauling in eighteen punts for 200 yards, including a 47 yarder, an 11.11 yard average. However, 138 of those 200 yards came on five punts against Delaware State (and were third-most in a single game in FSU history). Matthews also returned one kick last year for 37 yards. Matthews has been practicing as a returner this year but has also been limited in camp by injuries.
The 5’11 192 pound senior from Orlando returned three punts for eleven yards as a freshman in 2015. In 2016 he secured fourteen punts for just eight total yards. Murray did not return any punts in 2017. He has been practicing returns this year.
The 5’9 162 pound true freshman from Pensacola is the nephew of Derrick Brooks, but is working hard to make his own mark at Florida State. Helton has been earning rave reviews in practice, and has gotten reps as a returner in camp. Helton, a former three star recruit, is known for his speed, reportedly running a sub 4.40 forty yard dash. As a senior in high school he qualified for the track and field state championships in the long jump and 400 meter dash.
The 6’2 180 pound former consensus four star true freshman hails all the way from Seattle, Washington. Harrison has also gotten punt returner reps in camp, and was listed as one of the best athlete prospects in the country by Rivals, 247 Sports, and ESPN.
This 6’0, 170 pound former three star redshirt freshman was recently spotted returning kicks in practice, and showed breakaway speed.
The 5’10 205 pound junior running back from Coral Gables returned one kick in 2016 for 11 yards, and returned nine kicks last season for 205 yards, a 22.78 yard average. Rasul does not appear to be in the mix for a starting spot returning kicks.
The former five star recruit is now a redshirt junior, and has struggled with major injuries throughout his collegiate career. Campbell redshirted in 2016 but did return two punts in 2017 for forty total yards. Campbell does not appear to be in the mix for a starting spot returning kicks.
Aguayo, now a junior, is the clear entrenched starter at kicker and was one of the few bright spots for the Seminole special teams last season. Aguayo was up-and-down as a freshman, making 19 of 26 field goals in 2016, a 73.1 percent rate. But as a sophomore in 2017 he improved his accuracy tremendously, going 18 of 21, good for 85.7 percent, which tied for the tenth-best rate nationally, and the best in the ACC. He missed two kicks between 30-39 yards (his first two attempts of the season) and one kick between 40-49 yards. He made his lone 50+ yard attempt, a 51 yarder at Wake Forest. Of his first two attempts that he missed, one was the aforementioned 37 yard attempt that was blocked by Alabama, and Aguayo missed a 30 yard attempt the following week against North Carolina State. Aguayo would only miss one more attempt the rest of the way, a 44 yard attempt vs Louisville. Aguayo has again been named to the Groza Award watch list. Reports from camp seem to indicate Aguayo has picked up where he left off and should be one of the best kickers in the country.
A lot of the same pieces from 2017 are back in 2018, plus some new intriguing explosive athletes, but can a new staff that has brought energy and simplicity to the team also reroute a unit that struggled to positively affect games last season?