2016 Season Preview: Special Teams

Photo by Logan Stanford

With fall camp starting back up again, it’s that time of the year again where we start to preview Florida State’s squad heading into the 2016. We’ll break down each position group, starting with the special teams, and move back to front, ending with the quarterbacks.

For the first time in a while, Florida State enters with major questions on special teams. Gone are both Roberto Aguayo and Cason Beatty, both players who have been on the team since 2012. Aguayo was a record-setting kicker and leaves Florida State as the most accurate kicker in NCAA history. He was drafted in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and should be their kicker for a long time. Beatty was frustrating at times with shanked punts, but got consistently better over the course of his career and had some good moments during his senior season.

To no surprise, the favorite to replace Roberto is actually his younger brother, Ricky Aguayo (23). The younger Aguayo enrolled early at FSU for spring practice and had no trouble impressing both coaches and fans. In the spring game, he made both field goals he attempted and showed that he will likely step in as Florida State’s kickoff specialist as well.

Ricky is stepping into some big shoes when he replaces his brother. Over the past three seasons, Roberto was perfect on extra point attempts (198/198) and converted 88.5% of his field goal attempts (69/78). Roberto was also perfect from inside 40 yards on field goals (29/29) but struggled, like most kickers, from beyond that range (23/32 from over 40 yards).

While it’s unlikely that Ricky will live up to the extraordinary high expectations set by his brother, he will be stepping into a good situation this year at FSU. In 2015, Florida State’s offense struggled to convert third downs and score touchdowns in the red zone and they relied on Roberto to bail them out of a lot of situations. With an improved passing game and the return of Dalvin Cook, Florida State’s offense won’t be relying on Ricky to score the majority of points in a game.

On the other hand, there is a good chance that Florida State could see an improvement in the punting game in 2016. While Cason Beatty had his moments at times, he was widely inconsistent throughout his four year career. This year, true freshman Logan Tyler (21) and redshirt senior Jack Steed (41) will compete for the punting job.

Steed is a graduate transfer from Oklahoma, but he did not play for the Sooners during his four years on campus. Per his Oklahoma bio, he averaged 39.4 yards per punt in high school.

Although Logan Tyler is listed as a kicker per FSU’s roster, he will compete for the punting job during fall camp. Rated as a five-star prospect by Kohl’s Kicking, Tyler averaged 43 yards per punt as a high school senior. Tyler also played quarterback, running back, safety and outside linebacker for his high school team and is a very athletic player. Should Jimbo Fisher reach into his bag of tricks and attempt another fake punt or two during the season, Tyler is definitely the player to run them with.

Florida State will also look to improve on the return game in 2016. Both kick and punt returns have been somewhat stagnant over the past couple of seasons and the introduction of several new players could give special teams a spark.

Senior receiver Kermit Whitfield (8) has been Florida State’s primary kick returner since his freshman season, but has not provided the same impact that he did as a freshman. In fact, the last time Kermit returned a kick for a touchdown was all the way back in the 2013 National Championship game against Auburn. But while Kermit averaged 36.41 yards per return in 2013, he fell to 20.78 in 2014 and 26.68 in 2015.

Last year, FSU allowed Jalen Ramsey to return kicks as a way of sparking the return game and Ramsey famously donned Charlie Ward’s No. 17 jersey at these times. Unfortunately, teams seemed scared to kick to Ramsey and he only returned two kicks all year.

This year, Kermit will likely see a new face alongside him at returner. There are several options that could make sense for Florida State. Sophomore cornerback Tarvarus McFadden (4) returned kicks in high school and actually returned one last year for 26 yards. Another option is junior receiver Ja’Vonn Harrison (13), a freakish athlete who has not yet made an impact at receiver but has seen a few snaps at returner.

At punt returner, senior receiver Bobo Wilson (3) served as the primary option at the position for the majority of the 2015 season but the season didn’t start that way. Marquez White was actually the starter at punt returner versus Texas State in the season opener, but proceeded to fumble his way out of the job. Bobo took over and provided a more consistent option. While he only averaged 4.54 yards per punt return, he did not fumble the ball.

This year, Florida State could see a new name at punt returner. Freshman defensive back Levonta Taylor (1) was an electric punt returner in high school and will likely compete for the job in fall camp. He is an explosive athlete and provides the punt return game with the extra spark that it has lacked for a while. The last time Florida State returned a punt for a touchdown was all the way back in 2012.

While Florida State will certainly take a step back in the kicking/punting departments in 2016, they have recruited well enough at those positions that it will likely not cause a serious impact this season. Ricky doesn’t need to be Roberto, he just needs to convert the majority of his field goal attempts. Whoever wins the punting job, Tyler or Steed, will likely have a good offense to lean on at times. And the kick/punt return games should both see an improvement in 2016 after a few years of stagnation.

Don’t worry, Florida State fans, the special teams units will be just fine.

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