The Panthers special teams were a work in progress in 2013. FIU had to break in a new kicker, punter, long snapper and had to use different kick returners and punt returners after some players graduated and others were not eligible for this past season.
Austin Taylor improved as the season progressed. The freshman kicker connected on 8 of 12 field goals including a program-tying record 52-yard field goal against East Carolina. Taylor tied former FIU kicker Adam Moss’s record. Taylor also had all four of FIU’s touchbacks and those came later in the season as Taylor got better with kickoffs. As is the case with kickers, Taylor might encounter competition in spring practice but right now he is the best kicker FIU has.
After punter Chris Ayers got off to a slow start, Jake Medlock took the punting job and never let go of it. Medlock has the strongest leg of any FIU kicker or punter and showed it with a 70-yard punt at UTEP. The 70-yard punt was one yard shy of the FIU record of 71 yards set by Chris Cook in 2007 the year FIU played its home games in the Orange Bowl. I’m not sure how long Medlock could punt and play quarterback so the Panthers might need to look for another punter in the offseason or hope Ayers becomes more consistent.
Richard Leonard was sorely missed in both kick and punt returns this past season. Leonard is trying to work his way back on the team and his speed and vision was much needed on returns. FIU got good returns against Bethune-Cookman with Clinton Taylor’s 56-yard kickoff return and Sam Miller’s 42-yard punt return. In Don Shula Bowl XII, T.J. Lowder had a 50-yard kick return, but that was about it for the Panthers big returns on the season. Miller is a senior, but Taylor, Lowder and possibly Leonard will be back. Add to that more speed that is expected to be added by NSD and the Panthers should improve their return units.