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Florida State’s 2019 special teams preview

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Can FSU’s special teams rebound this year?

NCAA Football: Samford at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State’s 2018 season was their worst in the modern era, ending with a 5-7 record and the Seminoles missing their first bowl game in over 30 years. The ’Noles struggled all over the field, and special teams was not an exception. In 2017, FSU was ranked 8th in Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rankings in special teams. In 2018? 96th.

The Seminoles saw drops in almost every measurable efficiency. Here are some of their greatest hits. Kick return efficiency (KRE) plummeted from 34th to 111th. Kickoff efficiency (KE) from 22nd to 110th. Field goal efficiency (FGE) also saw a drop, though not as much, going from 17th to 30th.

The ugliness didn’t end with just the numbers. FSU consistently looked clueless when it came to each special teams play. Every punt had fans holding their breath. Would this punt be blocked? Or would another timeout be spent as Florida State once again didn’t have enough players on the field? The terrible special teams had to have a sacrifice. And that sacrifice was the firing of special teams coach Alonzo Hampton. Coach Mark Snyder is now splitting time between outside linebackers and special teams.

How will Florida State improve on these failures? By bringing back every starter at their position. If FSU hopes to make a bowl this year, it will need the experience of its special teams players to be a positive and not a repeat of last year’s failures.

Punters

Florida State will again enter the season with two punters, senior Logan Tyler and sophomore Tommy Martin. Unless an injury occurs, Tyler will have the majority, if not all of the punting responsibilities.

Tyler has a huge leg but often lacked the necessary hang time on his punts to allow the punt team the time to properly defend the return. The senior punter set a school record last year with 82 total punts. Not a record you really want to break. But in his defense, Tyler did average 43.2 yards per punt, ranking first in the ACC. FSU will need Tyler to improve the hang time of his punts and also to be consistent, as Tyler was prone to his share of shanked kicks.

Tyler will also handle kickoff responsibilities, where he had 37 touchbacks last year.

Kicker

Ricky Aguayo is also back for his senior season. This year, he is joined by sophomore Parker Grothaus and true freshman Ryan Fitzgerald.

The should be Aguayo’s job to lose, but if he struggles as he did last year, he could see a challenge from the youngster, Fitzgerald. Aguayo finished last year converting 11/17 field goals and 30/31 extra-point attempts. The senior hit a career high 53-yard field goal last year against Miami, but also missed a crucial 43-yard field goal in the game. Florida State will need Aguayo to step out of his brother’s shadow and make a name for himself in his final season.

Returners

D.J. Matthews is poised to once again be the starting punt returner. Matthews put together a solid year, averaging 13.5 yards per return. The junior had a breakout performance against Miami, returning 5 punts for 145 yards and a touchdown (and a called back legal touchdown pass) in the loss. Matthews will need to improve his recognition of when to fair catch a punt and when to let the ball go over his head this year. He’ll also need the return unit to set up better blocks.

Kick returners have not been announced as of yet, and there are no clear leaders at this time. Florida State is not lacking in the skills department and could see a number of players take a turn at kickoff returners. Some names to keep an eye on are Keyshawn Helton, Khalan Laborn, Keith Gavin, Anthony Grant, or incoming freshman Travis Jay. This is an area Florida State really needs to improve, as its average offensive starting field position last year was the 27 yard line, good for 127th in the nation (not so good). In your face, UTEP.

After a disaster of a season in 2018, FSU will look to make the special teams units a plus. With new leadership and experienced players, this group has the recipe to be a positive piece of the 2019 rebuild.