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Friday, September 30, 2022

Column: Toney needs to be contributing on special teams now, not later

<p>Will Kadarius Toney be suspended for his offseason shenanigans?</p>

Will Kadarius Toney be suspended for his offseason shenanigans?

Remember when you were a kid at Christmas time and your parents used to put your presents under the tree a couple days early?

The gifts would sit there in pristine condition, taunting you from the living room floor as you’d ponder the potential of what could be inside.

Just staring at the wrapping paper alone was enough to drive you crazy. You wanted to open your toys then, in that exact moment, but you knew you had to wait.

Well, for Florida’s football team, it has a toy of its own that it’s holding off from using right away. His name is Kadarius Toney.

Toney, a true freshman from Mobile, Alabama, has captivated teammates and coaches alike the instant he stepped on campus in January as an early enrollee, wowing them at practice with his elusiveness and playmaking abilities.

The quarterback-turned-receiver is a fleet-footed and shifty athlete. He knows how to make people miss. Defenders look silly, like a group of toddlers on ice skates, when they attempt to bring him down.

“He’s like a little joystick out there,” linebacker David Reese said. “He’s slippery, people slipping and sliding on the field … I love when he gets the ball.”

Toney has been given his fair share of opportunities for the Gators through their first two games of 2017, recording six catches for 67 yards as well as one carry for five yards.

But with a skillset like his, possessing the type of frenetic footwork that gives opposing teams nightmares, you’d think he’d be UF’s go-to guy in the return game as well.

Nope.

Toney has barely sniffed the field for Florida on special teams this year. And that’s a problem.

Coach Jim McElwain and special teams coordinator Greg Nord have expressed an unwillingness to send the freshman back to return kicks at this point in the season, stating they don’t want to put too much “on his plate.”

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“You overload guys and then they paralyze themselves,” McElwain said. “So we do it bit by bit.”

That logic is all fine and dandy, except when it’s not.

McElwain and Nord used Antonio Callaway as their primary punt returner during his freshman year with the Gators in 2015 and he thrived, averaging 15.5 yards per return for the second-best mark in the SEC.

If Callaway, one of the biggest numbskulls to grace UF’s football program in recent history, was able to handle the mental capacity needed to play both receiver and punt returner in his first season of college football, I’d think Toney can as well.

And yes, some of you may be thinking, ‘Every player is different. Just because Callaway could manage it doesn’t mean Toney is ready.’

But from everything I’ve seen and heard about the speedster so far this year, it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t make an impact right away. Just ask fellow teammate Freddie Swain.

“I don’t think he has any ACLs, to be honest with you, the way he can move,” Swain said. “He’s a heck of a player.”

Indeed.

Toney is electric with the ball in his hands, and UF could use some help in the return game.

The Gators are currently ranked seventh in the SEC in kick return average (22.3 yards) and ninth in the conference in punt return average (7.0 yards).

So, enough with this garbage about ‘Oh, we’re easing him into things’ from McElwain and Nord. That’s bologna.

The sooner Toney is on the field returning kicks, the sooner they’ll be watching his knee-buckling cutbacks and untouchable jukes light up coverage units like a Christmas tree.

Dylan Dixon is the assistant sports editor. Look out for his next column on Sept. 29. Follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon and contact him via email at ddixon@alligator.org.

Will Kadarius Toney be suspended for his offseason shenanigans?

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