2010 Roster Breakdown: Special Teams

The Florida Gators special teams have always been special under Urban Meyer. In 2010, the Gators return two all-SEC caliber kicking specialists, but have to replace all time great return man Brandon James. With speed galore all over the roster an adequate replacement should be found for James making Florida's special teams one of the best in the country yet again.

Urban Meyer always places a lot of emphasis on special teams and it shows over the course of a season when his groups finish at or near the top in most categories. Even with a new coach in charge as assistant D.J. Durkin will be, the Gators look to have strong special teams.

Florida worked an inordinate amount of time on special teams in the spring, showing that Meyer has not lost his perspective when it comes to the importance of this third of the game of football. He can rest a little knowing that his kicking specialists are players that can be at least somewhat trusted.

Punter Chas Henry enters his senior year after finishing in the top three finalists for the Ray Guy Award given to college football's best punter. Henry has averaged 42.1 yards per punt for his career and 43.4 yards per punt for both of the last two seasons. His long booming kicks often result in no return and he has landed almost half of his punts inside the 20-yard line.

Henry could average much more per punt except Meyer and company are very keen on defending the return. His booming high kicks allow the defense to run under the ball and get to the return man often times before the ball reaches their hands.

Backing up Henry is redshirt sophomore walk-on David Lerner who has shown a great leg himself in practice situations. Without experience on the field of play it is hard to gauge what he would do in a game, but has shown a booming leg without the pressure of the game itself. Lerner is a local product of Gaineville's Buchholz High School.

The place kicking duties will belong to junior Caleb Sturgis who was a semi-finalist for the Lou Groza award given to the nation's best place kicker. Sturgis has a cannon of a leg and often is placed under strenuous moments in practice kicking 60-plus yard field goals. In 2009 he was 22-of-30 on field goal attempts, including six of nine from beyond 40 yards. Sturgis nailed a 56-yard field goal against Georgia in Jacksonville.

There hasn't been a backup place kicker emerge just yet and two-a-days should help with that.

The return game is something else when it comes to Meyer and company being comfortable with the returning personnel. Gone is Mr. Special Teams himself Brandon James. James left Florida as the career leader in kick returns and yardage and punt returns and yardage. He was a threat every time he touched the ball and was also never one to cough up the ball.

Finding the right guy that can return the ball and also not turn it over with defenders running down hard will be something the staff pays a great deal of attention to in the next month.

The guy at the top of the chart for both return duties is junior receiver Chris Rainey. Rainey has the burst, vision, and savvy needed to be a great return man and he showed that a great deal when given a chance last fall. His 51-yard kickoff return against Cincinnati was hopefully a glimpse of what is to come with Rainey returning kicks.

Other names you might see trot out there on kick returns to be the return man are Jeff Demps (pure speed), Andre Debose (vision and speed), Solomon Patton (vision and speed), and Robert Clark (vision and speed). Demps is the only upperclassman in that group while the latter three are all freshmen.

Rainey will likely start out as the team's punt returner as well and this position needs to have more of a steady hand because of the defense being right on the ball when the ball hits the returner's hands. Because of that, look for Meyer, Durkin and company to go veteran early on unless some superstar emerges at practice and they just have to get them on the field.

One player that could very well line up with his fair share of punt returns is junior cornerback Janoris Jenkins. He has grown into someone the staff trusts and he was electric at kick returning in high school.

BREAKOUT PLAYER: I will take my chances with Rainey here. He has the knack of making that special play when he gets chances with the ball in his hands. If Rainey sees a crease, he owns that crease and is gone. I think he will dance a lot less during kick returns than he does as a tail back and so he will be more of a north-south return man.

ON POINT WITH CODY JONES: The combination of punter Chas Henry and kicker Caleb Sturgis is the center of another strong year of special teams for the Gators.

The big question comes in the return game, replacing Brandon James. I would give Chris Rainey the kick returner job, but punt returner is where it gets interesting. Rainey, Janoris Jenkins, Solomon Patton and Robert Clark would all be good at it. I'd prefer giving it either of the freshmen, Clark or Patton. As we saw with James, throwing a freshman out there to return punts isn't impossible, and it gives the Gators a solidified starter in the coming years.
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