Expected Contributors: Redshirt Junior Punter Johnny Townsend (6-1, 210), Freshman Kicker Eddy Pineiro(6-0, 183), Redshirt Senior Neil MacInnes (6-4, 216), Redshirt Sophomore Kicker Jorge Powell (5-0, 166),Senior Returner Chris Thompson (6-0, 170), Junior Returner Brandon Powell (5-9, 184), Junior Returner Dre Massey (5-9, 183), Sophomore Returner Antonio Callaway (5-11, 185), Freshman Returner Chauncey Gardner (5-11, 205), Freshman Returner McArthur Burnett (5-9, 172)
Strengths: The biggest known strength on special teams is punter Johnny Townsend. He will enter 2016 as a preseason All-American and deserves all the accolades. Townsend has been huge in the Gators wins posted in the last couple of years and is a valuable part of this team. He can also be used as a reserve kicker although it appears they have solved that problem with quality and numbers.
In the kicking game, the Gators added super leg Eddy Pineiro who can hit field goals from 70 yards. Accuracy is the key though and that doesn’t seem to be a problem either. Jorge Powell will be back from the knee injury in the LSU game in 2015 and he was kicking solid before the injury. I like that there is some competition at the position. Neil MacInnes “The Dentist” is also back after having to kick injured to end the season.
The return game should get a nice bump with some athleticism added to the roster. All of the return guys listed above have real potential and I didn’t even get into names like Tyrie Cleveland and Jalen Tabor who very well could end up returning kicks. Callaway can be special here. He returned three kickoffs a year ago for a 26.3 yard average and 28 punts for a 15.5 yard average including two touchdowns. He had another couple of touchdowns taken away via penalty. Either way, the athletes they are adding on offense will go a long way in improving an already very good punt return team and a kick return game that needs the boost.
Weaknesses: The biggest weakness is really just the lack of experience for Pineiro. Everyone expects him to be the guy, but he still needs to do it on Steve Spurrier Field in front of 90,000. This is likely not an issue as the kid seems to have ice in his veins, but you never know until you know. Not knowing who the kick returners are right now will all be known by the time the first game comes around.
Comparison to 2015: There is literally no possible way that the field goal kicking game won’t be better. You have to believe that Townsend will get better as well, even if there is only a small room for improvement there. As athletic as Brandon Powell showed a year ago, he wasn’t a break out kick returner. With all the new bodies, and maybe with renewed health in terms of Powell’s foot injury, they should be able to make some noise in that regard as well. Coverage units were pretty good and well coached. There is no reason to expect that to be any different.