Last season the Seminoles harbored arguably one of the nation's top punt returners in Willie Reid. Upon losing the Kathleen, Ga. native to graduation, the 'Noles are left with big shoes to fill in regards to a playmaker who is expected to be a mid-round selection in this month's NFL Draft.
Luckily for the Tribe, a capable veteran and two youngsters have been called upon to step into the special teams role.
"We've got three guys right now that are back there," said Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, who oversees the punt return team. "Chris Davis is working some back there and Richard Goodman is working some too. The first thing you have got to do as a punt returner is to catch the football and know when to fair catch."
In addition to redshirt senior Davis and sophomore Goodman – both wide receivers – tailback Russell Ball, who redshirted last year in his first season as a member of the FSU football team, is also getting reps.
And while it may seem that Davis has the best shot at achieving first-team punt returner duties come opening night against the rival Miami Hurricanes due to his experience, Goodman has looked sharp this spring practice period.
Despite playing sparingly in his freshman season last year at wide receiver, the Fort Lauderdale native hopes that his sophomore campaign brings him success at the position that gained him notoriety in the prep ranks.
"I really started getting recruited off of punt return and kick return," Goodman said. "I only played one year in high school. It's getting creative, that's the whole big thing as far as making people miss and getting up field."
"Last year I wanted to get a shot at it, but Willie (Reid) is a great guy," he added. "In my opinion he was the best punt returner in the country. I am just thankful that I was able to sit on the sidelines and watch and learn."
While Goodman has a year under his belt of playing experience – albeit limited – Ball has not had that luxury. Having battled a knee injury since arriving on campus last summer, the 5-foot-7 speedster has been considered a wildcard at the position since practice began.
A talented player in high school, questions regarding his size and ability to bounce back from a serious injury have been commonplace. So far this spring, however, the Texas native has done his part in answering those inquiries – not only at tailback but at punt return as well.
"Russell Ball has looked pretty good back there," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "If he could get real comfortable back there he would be good. But, if you drop every other one it can bring you down, but he is doing much better than that."
One thing is for sure: Despite the competition that occurs this spring, top returning duties are not expected to be decided upon until two-a-days in August. With several talented freshmen set to enroll at FSU in the coming months, the competition is expected to get even fiercer.
When combating the loss of a talent like Reid, a heated battle for an appropriate replacement is key for a position of depth that was so kind to the Garnet and Gold last season.
"We are looking for somebody to catch a ball, stick it up the field, and then decided to make or break based on where the coverage is," Andrews said. "We have got to find the best player that can do that."
Seminoles looking to fill punt return void
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