Florida Works on Kickoff Rule Changes

The changes to the kickoff rules have forced the Gators to spend extra fall practice time working on their strategies. The NCAA changed the rules with hopes of increasing player safety with more touchbacks. It creates a dilemma that all teams have to figure out. Florida head coach Will Muschamp and special teams coordinator DJ Durkin worked with the Gators to adapt to the new system this fall.

The new NCAA rule is that the ball will be kicked off from the 35-yard line after it used to be kicked from the 30-yard line. If the kickoff goes for a touchback, the offense will take over at the 25-yardline instead of the 20-yard line like before the change. The new rule also says that players on the kicking team aren't allowed a running start of more than five yards.

It potentially takes away a weapon for Florida. Andre Debose is currently the career leader at Florida with three kickoff returns for a touchdown. Even when he hasn't run the ball into the end zone, he creates a short field for the Florida offense.

The coaches worked with him in the fall to make sure he makes smart decisions when trying to figure out whether or not he should bring the ball out of the end zone.

"We'd like for Andre to bring it out, depending on how deep it is," Will Muschamp said. "We've given him a landmark back there of when we want him to take it out. We worked really hard on that—making a good decision in those situations.

"It's also affected by the hang time of the kick. A lot of that goes back to pregame. We get a time on how high it goes and how deep it will be. (Andre) has to make good judgments."

The Gators also have First Team All-SEC kicker Caleb Sturgis booming the ball on kickoffs. He can take some distance off the ball and create more hang time, but it will depend on the situation for the Gators. The Florida coaching staff is comfortable letting him kick the ball out of the end zone if that's what the situation calls for.

"There are some situations where we may try to pin some people deep, depending on our coverage and how well we're covering," Muschamp said. "We feel very comfortable with our coverage teams."

DEPTH IN RUN GAME: The depth chart released on Monday morning listed Mack Brown as the backup running back after a battle with freshman Matt Jones. Both are expected to play this weekend and throughout the season, but Brown had a strong fall camp that allowed him to hold off the freshman.

Mack Brown (left) will be the backup running back

"Our run game is a little different in what we're trying to do as far as our downhill running game," Muschamp said. "What we're doing schematically helps (Brown's) running style, and last year, it didn't. He has done a better job in assignments and protections in the different things you have to do besides carry the ball at the running back position.

"He has done a nice job of continuing to improve."

Fullback Hunter Joyer also helps the running game. He carried the ball and held his own as a blocker in the SEC during his freshman year. Joyer proved to the coaches that he was versatile enough to earn a bigger role in the offense this fall.

"He allows you to get in two-back runs you want to run," Muschamp said. "He's got really soft hands out of the backfield and catches the ball extremely well. He's also a guy in some one-back sets you're going to see carrying the football.

"He can do a lot of things. He played a lot as a true freshman at Florida. That says a lot about the player he is and can be."

SAM LINEBACKER: The only battle that was announced without an "OR" between two players on the depth chart was SAM linebacker. Florida listed Darrin Kitchens as the starter above Neiron Ball, who was slowed by an ankle injury in recent practices.

Kitchens saw time on the field in 2011 while Ball sat out, but both bring unique skill sets that will help the Florida defense this fall.

"Darrin Kitchens has done a nice job," Muschamp said. "He did a nice job for us last year. Both guys will play at the position."

VERSATILE BURTON: Trey Burton estimated on Monday that he will line up at running back, wide receiver, tight end, fullback and quarterback during the 2012 season. The junior has earned a bigger role in the offense.

"Trey is very intelligent," Muschamp said. "Football comes easier to him than others as far as understanding concepts. He sees the big picture and understands that part of it. You can verbalize a lot with him that you can't with other guys. He takes to the game real well. You're able to put him in a lot of different spots.

"His intelligence is a skill and being able to learn. It helps him understand routes and leverage."

Muschamp also said that the wildcat offense wouldn't disappear from what the Gators do with the ball. He wouldn't open up about which Florida players would run it, but Burton has been used in that role throughout his time in Gainesville.

"It's something we'll use game-to-game," Muschamp said. "We can benefit from it."

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