It's a new era for Florida State football.
Yes, E.J. Manuel is still slotted to be the starting quarterback and FSU does return 17 starters from a season ago.
However, one of the men that will not be donning the garnet and gold this year was arguably the Seminoles' most valuable player for much of last season.
That man is punter Shawn Powell.
The All-American is now auditioning for potential NFL suitors, and the Seminoles are faced with the daunting task of replacing arguably the greatest special-teams player in Florida State history.
Saturday's scrimmage was the first real look that coach Jimbo Fisher was able to get of his new scholarship punter in an FSU uniform.
"I thought our punter, Cason Beatty, and all those guys did a real nice job," said Fisher after the workout at Doak Campbell Stadium. "Punted the ball decently, and Beatty had a couple really nice kicks."
However, Fisher seemed much more upbeat regarding his kick returners.
"I was impressed," Fisher said. "Our kickoff-return guys did a really nice job today. Where we're at, I think our timing and those guys are really getting a great continuity. I think that can be a nice weapon for us."
The special-teams weapon Florida State supporters have become most accustomed to seeing the last few seasons is Greg Reid. Reid is certain to stay as the main punt returner, but it appears Joyner and Williams will take over on kickoffs. Both showed explosiveness when given opportunities last season and are certain to provide the Seminoles with an extra spark to gain over the opponent in the all-important battle for field position.
Last season, Williams averaged 23.2 yards per return on the eight kickoffs he fielded, his longest being a 33-yarder. But he did have several returns negated by penalties, including one vs. Miami in which he took it the distance.
His counterpart, Joyner, returned the ball 13 times last season and averaged 30.5 yards per attempt. The two are certain to form one of the deadliest return teams the ‘Noles have put on the field in years.
A familiar face that returns for the special-teams unit is kicker Dustin Hopkins. The senior from Houston, Texas, has had his ups and downs as a member of the Seminoles, but last season he connected on 22 of 27 field-goal tries and hit all 44 of his extra-point attempts. He has scored a total of 229 points for FSU over the last two seasons.
"Dustin is kicking the ball pretty decent right now," said Fisher. "He missed a few in practice here and there. I think we'll get that ironed out. He's coming off that surgery. I'm anxious to see him the second half of spring."
The surgery Fisher is referring to is an arthroscopic procedure conducted on Hopkins' knee earlier this year. Hopkins is expected to be back to normal by the time fall practice rolls around.
Matt Ritter is a football and basketball reporter for NoleDigest.com, as well as a graduate student in Media Communication Studies at Florida State.
Special teams a work in progress
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