Notebook: Adapting to Kickoff Changes

HOOVER, Ala. – The biggest change to the college game this fall is the new kickoff rules. Teams will now kick off from the 35-yard line, but a touchback brings the ball out to the 25-yard line. It forces coaching staffs to make a decision. There's an opportunity to use sky kicks to pin the opponent deep in their own territory, but with a kicker like Caleb Sturgis, Florida can use him as a weapon.

Caleb Sturgis had a leg capable of putting the ball out of the end zone to avoid the risk of a kickoff returned for a touchdown, but the new rules could change the way coaches look at it. Florida head coach Will Muschamp still hasn't decided the route he wants to go after conversations with linebackers/special teams coach D.J. Durkin.

"D.J. and I have talked a lot to people around the country about that," Muschamp said. "We have a guy that can kick it out of the end zone, but you're going to get the ball at the 25-yard line now. We have talked about some sky kick situations as far as trying to pin them down. We do run well, that's why we're good on special teams. We talked about trying directional kick the ball with height and see if we can't pin 'em back in even further."

It's a direction plenty of college teams across the country could go. Sturgis was placed on the First Team Preseason All-SEC teams by the conference coaches and the media, and his leg strength has never been the problem. It's one of the strongest in the country.

Leg strength to kick the ball as far as possible isn't necessarily as important with the new rules. It's all about getting the hang time if they elect to go with the sky kicks.

Durkin has been a fan of the sky kicks in recent years since he took over as the special teams coach before the 2010 season. It could be something Florida uses even more in 2012 so that the ball isn't given to the opponent at the 25-yard line.

"That's something we worked through in spring, we talked about a lot, repped a little bit," Muschamp said. "We've had our kickers working on that. We will do that again in fall camp."


Ronald Powell's torn ACL could force some juggling for the Florida defense. After putting three linebackers—Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins and Lerentee McCray—on the Butkus Award watch list, Florida could move McCray from the SAM position he played well when healthy during the 2011 season.

Muschamp said McCray will split time at SAM linebacker in regular packages and BUCK in the "subpackages" this fall. The fifth-year senior's versatility makes him an important piece to anchor the defense at either position.

"I feel very comfortable about Lerentee," Muschamp said. "He played the position last year for us and did a really nice job. Ronald was injured for the Auburn game. He came in and played very well at position for him in this game."

Neiron Ball could factor in at linebacker, too. Muschamp called him the wildcard to get time on the field. If he can prove that he can handle the SAM linebacker position, the Gators can slide McCray to the BUCK spot full time.

"I think the wildcard there a little bit is Neiron Ball," Muschamp said. "He's a guy we'll play at the "Sam", he and Darrin Kitchens, see if those guys can continue to develop, which we think they can, to be really good players."


With most of the freshman class on campus, Muschamp said its too early to judge which of them will have the biggest impacts.

He did note that the ones who spent the spring on campus have a leg up on the others.

"It's a huge advantage for a young man to enroll in January," Muschamp said. "That's got to be something they really want to do. In most situations I've had young people do that, they've thrived, they get ahead academically. They come into a situation where there isn't high expectation for the season. They don't have all that sitting on their plate. They're just going to school, getting ready for spring ball, they're learning how to work, learning what the expectation level is."

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