November 13, 2012

FSU shaking up the punt return unit vs. Maryland

Ups and downs are a part of football season. Yet the drastic differences in the peaks and valleys for Florida State's punt returners this season are unlike any other position on the entire roster.

Both Rashad Greene and Tyler Hunter have experienced success this season as a returner, each averaging 15.8 yards per return and combining for three touchdowns, but they also have struggled at times, muffing punts, including two by Hunter in each of the last two weeks.

Against Maryland, FSU will likely employ a two-man return team on punts with Greene and fellow wide receiver Kenny Shaw back deep. Terrapin punter Nathan Renfro has been sporadic this season according to Greene, so he and Shaw will just split the field down the middle.

"Having two returners it's not as much pressure," Greene said. "The guy that we're going against this week, his hit chart is all over the place, so he can kick it anywhere. That's the reason we have two guys, one guy has one side of the field and the other guy has the next. We're able to protect him to make a better decision, so it'll benefit us."

The change comes after Hunter not only fumbled against the Hokies, but after he also allowed multiple punts to hit the ground and cost FSU large chunks of yards throughout the game.

Shaw said that just catching the ball was something the coaches discussed with him and the other returners during position meetings on Monday.

"The emphasis in the meeting yesterday was '(Coach Eddie Gran) doesn't care what is done, just catch the ball,'" Shaw said. "What's been said is there is just too many balls on the ground. The emphasis is just to catch the ball no matter what happens."

Shaw was a punt returner at Orlando Dr. Phillips High school, but hasn't been a full-time returner throughout his college career. Still the junior wideout said he has gone back deep on returns in practice since fall camp just in case the opportunity arrised.

"My thoughts when they said that I could get the job, it was just to win it out and show them that I can do it," Shaw said. "I've just been working on it even when I wasn't back there, I would just go back there and practice on my own time."

In addition to Shaw and Greene, Hunter and true freshman Ronald Darby also took reps at punt returner in practice. Head coach Jimbo Fisher said that the changes to the punt return weren't just based on how the players performed, but that they had to do a better job getting the players prepared in practice

"It's not just a battle we've just got to consistently teach it better and find out who is going to do it the most consistent," Fisher said. "You've got to put as much simulated pressure… the one thing you can't simulate from practice to a game is pressure. No matter what you do, you have to do it the best you can. That's why a lot the times you see me get as tough in practice and do the things I do, because I want to see if I can break them."

Greene experienced early success as a returner taking his first punt of the season 47 yards for touchdown, and taking another back 60 yards for a score against Wake Forest. But after struggling against Miami, he was replaced by Hunter as the return man.
In the two games since he has given up the returner duties, Greene has scored on a 71-yard catch against the Blue Devils, and hauled in six catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns against VT. He says that the added responsibilities haven't affected him as a receiver.

"I don't feel like it affects me," he said. "I feel like I have the ability to focus in on whatever I need to focus in on. I'm very capable of focusing in on everything I need to, so I don't feel like it messes up from one part of my game to another. Like I said I just made poor choices and I've gotten better in that each week even though Tyler was the punt returner, we still both went out there in practice and worked on it each day."

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