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Papuchis feels confident in numbers in return game

Florida State coaches shored up needs through the transfer portal, notably at receiver, offensive line, defensive end and linebacker. But there was also a need to bring in dynamic players who could help in the return game.

The Seminoles’ punt return unit was among the worst in the FBS in 2021, averaging 5.9 yards (117th). Keyshawn Helton and Ontaria Wilson each averaged four yards per return. Special teams coordinator John Papuchis said they have worked in a variety of newcomers and veterans in return roles, beginning the discussion with Mycah Pittman as a punt returner.

“I thought Mycah Pittman did a really nice job throughout the course of spring,” Papuchis said. “He brings a confidence, he brings an aggressiveness. Just the mindset that he has every time he goes back there, I appreciate. He was very consistent throughout the course of all spring. There was one ball in the spring game that maybe he went after that he probably shouldn’t have, but I think he was trying to put that aggressiveness on display. 

“I thought Keyshawn (Helton) did a nice job in terms of fielding balls. I have confidence that he can go back there and catch it and do a good job back there. So those two guys and then we had some young guys that were trying to develop with Sam (McCall) and Azareye’h (Thomas) and some different guys back there catching punts. And then Travis Jay, who got a little nicked up about halfway through training camp. But he was back there as well.”

FSU’s kick return was about average in the FBS at 20.36 yards (66th). Travis Jay had a 41-yard kickoff return that sparked FSU’s rally at UNC, and Corey Wren had a 33-yard return. Winston Wright Jr. was expected to compete for that role but he was injured in a car accident during spring break. The Seminoles have evaluated a number of options.

“We have a big pool of players that we’re trying to develop from that standpoint,” Papuchis said. “You have the guys that are back, Ja’Khi (Douglas), who had gotten some return reps. Tre Ward, who had gotten some return reps. Lawrance Toafili, who had done that a little bit for us in the past, more in practice than he had ever in the games. But then you add to that equation, a guy like Trey Benson, like D.J. Williams, Deuce Spann. All of those guys were back there getting some return work. The depth isn’t going to be the issue. It’s just finding the guy that you feel like could be the difference maker that you want to put back there.”

Papuchis also said kicker Ryan Fitzgerald, who made 10 of 13 field-goal attempts last season, made over 80 percent of his kicks this spring. “He had a couple days that he was really good days. I think the last day we did live kicking, he finished with a 53-yarder. He had a very, very solid spring.”

Also FSU’s defensive ends coach, Papuchis discussed Jared Verse and the defensive ends in this interview with the media: