Choate sees talent to work with

Florida special teams coach Jeff Choate knows the caliber of situation he's stepping into this season. He has weapons to play with in all facets of special teams. The Gators return one of the best punters in the country with dynamic returning options in the punt and kick game. Florida will have to replace the best kicker in school history, but Choate has a lot of options on special teams.

The roster would have any special teams coach excited. Kyle Christy ended last season as a finalist for the Ray Guy Award after averaging 45.8 yards per punt and earning multiple All-American honors. His punting drastically changed field position in big wins against South Carolina, when he averaged 54.3 yards per punt, and LSU.

Choate called Loucheiz Purifoy "as good of a gunner as you're ever going to find." Purifoy's skills off the ball helped him get down field in a hurry to add another dimension to the punt game.

Andre Debose also returns for his redshirt senior year while tied for the Southeastern Conference lead with four career kickoff returns for a touchdown. He also holds the school kickoff return average record with 27.4 yards per kick average. Choate called him "one of the best kickoff returners in school history."

There's also plenty of speed to serve on kickoff coverage units.

"There is some talent here. The kids know it's important," Jeff Choate said. "There's a tremendous amount of buy-in in that phase. There's a lot of evidence that it can win games here. D.J. (Durkin) has done a tremendous job of developing it. My job is to continue to develop that success and throw in some new ideas here. That's what I'm looking to do."

Choate doesn't coach special teams as a separate unit. He'll ask players in meetings what kind of play a punt is, noting that it's an offensive play because the Gators still have the ball. He described his style as "really attacking" and "an extension of the offense." He'll use multiple formations to add some difficulty for teams that are preparing for Florida.

"It's not a retreating style," Choate said. "That would be something very much in line with my philosophy. There's a tradition of blocking kicks around here. That's something that I've taken a great deal of pride in during my time as special teams coordinator. That's something that will continue.

"There's an identity here. The kids understand the importance of the kicking game. I'm looking forward to building on that culture."

The only concern with the special teams is that the Gators just concluded spring practice and won't have much time to reinstall a different system in fall practice. Choate said he will spend the offseason learning the verbiage that the Gators have used in special teams workouts, and he will start to use that wording while he's teaching.

He doesn't want to change much of the scheme, especially in the first season. That could come next spring when Choate has his first full year on the coaching staff, but right now, he just wants to manage the unit and not confuse the players.

"D.J. and I are very similar in the way we approach special teams, and I had spent some time talking with him and studying some things Florida had done here," Choate said. "We exchanged ideas. I'll bring kind of my spin on things here and there. Without a spring, I don't see there being a lot of wholesale changes.

"We'll tweak some things and have game plan adjustments, but I think we've got to keep it as straightforward as we can in the short term."

Fightin Gators Top Stories