Spring Preview: Special Teams

There were times in 2011 where Caleb Sturgis was Florida's best weapon on offense. His big leg led to three field goals of 50+ yards last season as Sturgis went 22-26 for the season. He brings stability at the kicker position for Florida as it heads into spring practice on Wednesday.

Of the four field goals that Caleb Sturgis (RSR, 5-11, 183) missed in 2011, two were from 40-49 yards and two were from 50+ yards. Sturgis went 13-13 on field goals from 30 yards or shorter.

Sturgis also handled a majority of kickoff duties. He did 78.4% of the kickoffs the Gators had last season, averaging 66.4 yards and totaling ten touchbacks. Sturgis kicked just one of them out of bounds. He hit all 31 of his extra point attempts and added five tackles on special teams.

The most important part of the spring for Sturgis will be staying healthy. He has missed time in each of the last two seasons. In 2010, Sturgis' season was cut short after the first four games of the season because of a back injury. He missed the Georgia game in 2011 with a knee injury.

Sturgis has cut his weight lifting back to avoid any other injuries. When healthy, he is one of the best kickers in the nation and an important weapon for an offense that doesn't look to have many dynamic playmakers in 2012.

When Sturgis was injured and couldn't kick, Brad Phillips (JR, 5-10, 191) got the call. He went 2-3 against Georgia. He missed a 38-yard attempt on the first drive of the game but responded to hit a 43-yard field goal in the second quarter and a 40-yard attempt in the third quarter.

Phillips also handled 15 kickoffs during the season and averaged just four yards less than Sturgis. He has two touchbacks, one per 7.5 kickoffs, while Sturgis averaged one touchback per 5.8 kickoffs. If something were to happen to Sturgis during the season, Phillips is more than capable of taking over.

He'll need to have an impressive spring to hold off incoming freshman Austin Hardin (FR, 5-11, 195). Hardin won't be on campus until the summer but comes with a powerful leg.

Kyle Christy (SO, 6-3, 184) will be the punter this season. After David Lerner won the starting job in fall camp, Will Muschamp made the change for the seventh game of the season when Florida played at Auburn. Christy made his impact felt in a big way. After his first career punt went for 43 yards, he boomed the second one for 67 yards.

His issue, as it is for most young punters, was consistency. For every solid punt, there were some that Christy wouldn't hit correctly. He lost the starting job to start the year because Muschamp felt like he was too slow before kicking the football, but once that was cleaned up, Christy showed signs of what he can become.

His goal this spring will be to continue shortening his time before kicking the ball. Leg strength shouldn't be a problem.

Andre Debose (RJR, 5-11, 191) gives the Gators one of the top kickoff return men in the SEC. He returned 19 kicks for 495 yards (26.1 average) and one touchdown. Jeff Demps added ten kickoff returns for 250 yards (25 average) and one touchdown. The departure of Demps will give the Gators more open reps for Debose to touch the ball in the return game.

Solomon Patton (JR, 5-9, 169) could also get involved as a kickoff returner. He had ten returns last season for 241 yards (24.1 average). His long was 33, while Demps and Debose both had longs off 99 yards for touchdowns.

The punt returner job is up for grabs. Chris Rainey returned 12 punts last season for 106 yards (8.8 average) and one touchdown.

De'Ante Saunders (SO, 5-8, 192) had six punt returns for 25 yards. He would seem to be the favorite to take over for Rainey this spring, but the Gators will try out plenty of options before making a decision.

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