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Florida State Position Preview: Special Teams

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Can the ‘Noles build on last year’s improvements?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 NC State at Florida State Photo by Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As we approach the start of the 2021 football season, Tomahawk Nation is breaking down each position group on the Florida State Seminoles football team. First we covered running backs, then the offensive line, and now we’ll take a look at special teams.

I’m just going to be blunt here: Special teams under the Willie Taggart regime were anything but special.

According to Football Outsiders’ FEI Special Teams and Field Position rankings, Taggart’s first season ended with FSU ranked 75th out of 130 total teams (for contrast, they finished 48th in Jimbo Fisher’s final season). In 2019, things got even worse, seeing the ‘Noles drop to 82nd in the FEI (the only consolation? Miami (FL) finished 95th).

Why retread old stats in year 2 of a new regime? Mike Norvell had many issues to address in his first season and special teams proved to be a strong emphasis. This resulted in FSU finishing 22nd in the FEI despite its 3-6 record, an astonishing rise of 60 spots.

How did this happen, you ask? Check out Tim Linafelt’s excellent breakdown of Norvell’s special teams philosophy in which Norvell states that special teams are at the core of every one of his teams.

Some quick statistics from last season:

  • FSU connected on 8-14 field goal attempts and 26-27 PATs.
  • FSU tried only one onside kick, failing to convert.
  • FSU punted 38 times for a net average of 41.3 yards per punt.
  • FSU kickoff returners averaged 20.8 yards/return while opponents averaged 21.5 yards/return.
  • FSU punt returners averaged 8.2 yards/return while holding opponents to a meager 4.8 yards/return.

2021 Outlook

Kicking

K Parker Grothaus (RS JR): Has served as FSU kickoff specialist since 2019 and converted 4-7 FGs (long of 53 yards) and 14-14 PATs in 2020.

K Ryan Fitzpatrick (RS FR): Converted 4-7 FGs (long of 42) and 12-13 PATs in 2020.

P Alex Mastromano (RS FR): The Aussie averaged 43.5 yards/punt on 35 punts and was named FSU Special Teams Freshman of the Year.

P Zane Smith (FR): Rated as the top kicker in the country by Rivals and the #22 kicker by 247 composite. Two-time all-state selection from South Carolina boasting 97 touchbacks on kickoffs.

LS Garrett Murray (RS SO): Primary long snapper for FG and PATs.

Kickoff and Punt Returners

FSU only returned eight punts last season. Keyshawn Helton returned five for 26 yards, Travis Jay returned two for 20 yards, and Jakhi Douglas returned one for two yards. This trio also handled the majority of kickoff returns for FSU, with Jay leading the way with 229 yards on 10 returns. Douglas returned eight kickoffs for 158 yards, while Helton took back five kicks for 130 yards. Corey Wren returned three kickoffs for 45 yards, with Jashaun Corbin adding two returns for 32 yards.

Coming out of the spring, Helton, Jay, Douglas, Wren, and incoming transfer Jammie Robinson were the five names mentioned by special teams coordinator John Papuchis as competing for kickoff and punt returner duties. As we know, other players may enter the rotation in the fall. FSU will look to improve upon its return game, as the ‘Noles haven’t scored a kickoff return touchdown since a man named Kermit housed one in the 2013 National Championship game.