Florida's kicking game

The greatest mystery surrounding the 2006 edition of the Florida Gators focuses squarely on their special teams play. The questions easily outnumber anything known about the group. In big games, where special teams play so often can make the difference in a game- what do we know about Florida?

Florida returns kicker Chris Hetlend and punter Eric Wilbur. They have a bevy of talented return men, who really haven't made much noise. Kickoff and punt coverage was much improved against Central Florida. That's what we know. There's much more that we don't.

"Here's what I like about our special teams play," Meyer said. "Guys are arguing and begging and tearing up because I was going to take a guy off of kickoff and put a freshman in there. Riley Cooper's running down there and I don't know if you noticed this, but what a play he made. He's seven yards out in front of everybody else and a guy tries to block him and he knocks him down. And I'm more excited about that than that 58 yard reception Percy (Harvin) got because we need that in this program. We didn't have that (last year). You know, we had guys running down there on kickoff wondering why they get more carries and those types of things. It changes the element of everything. That's really important to championship teams."

The Gators have on of the top placekickers in college football in Chris Hetland. However, because of the outstanding offensive production, particularly in the red zone, he has not had an opportunity to take a shot. Hetland was 13 of 16 in his first year as the Florida kicker in 2005. Hetland not getting an opportunity to kick a field goal and working out any kinks with his snapper and holder by the third game of the season is not a position relished by Meyer. Not at all.

Head coach Urban Meyer was not at all pleased with the inconsistent play of the snapper and holder positions since the season opener. Thus far Florida has missed on two PAT conversions. Those were not missed attempts by Hetland- just horribly botched plays.

"I like the effort," Meyer stated. "I like the intensity. Obviously we're extremely sloppy right now with the operation of the field goals. We have not gotten our punt return going. We have not blocked a punt yet. So, there are some things that we've got to get cleaned up."

Senior punter Eric Wilbur has punted five times for a 38.6 yard average. Only one of his kicks have been returned and that went for one yard by All-American return man Joe Burnett of Central Florida.

The Gators haven't proven to be much better at returning punts. They have pretty much squandered their non attempts with a return average of just 5.4 yards, ninth best in the conference. Florida's coaches are hoping that Brandon James is much improved this week. He returned last week from a knee injury, although it is obvious that he is not 100%.

The Gators had only two kickoff returns last week. James took his kick back 30 yards, while running back Kestahn Moore brought back a 19 yard return.

Analysis: Spectacular special teams play usually spells doom for the opposition in big games. Florida's biggest concern is not having an attempt for Hetland. The Gators spend a lot of time on special teams. Don't be surprised if they block one this weekend or James electrifies the visiting crowd with a return.


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