Muffed punts a big concern for FSU

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Tyler Hunter waved his arm to signal for a fair catch, the ball was already on top of him.

As Savannah State tacklers closed in, the ball bounced off his right shoulder and bounded away, about 7 yards behind him.

In the end it meant nothing. Hunter backtracked, retrieved the muffed punt, and tumbled to the ground. EJ Manuel began the ensuing drive backed up a bit farther than he might otherwise have been, but Florida State still celebrated its fifth touchdown of the day 5:22 later.

For Jimbo Fisher, however, it meant everything.

"Any time you put a ball on the ground, that is a concern," Fisher said.

What's more concerning is that Hunter's muff isn't the first of the season for FSU, which is adjusting to a new group of punt returners filling the void left when Greg Reid was dismissed from the program last month.

In Week 1 against Murray State, Rashad Greene returned his first punt of the season for a touchdown, but he followed that up with several miscues, including a fumble in the third quarter.

A year ago, Florida State lost to Wake Forest in large part due to five turnovers. That's made fielding each punt cleanly a major emphasis this week.

"Things are going to get a lot more intense," Greene said. "It's a big responsibility, and in practice we have to take it more serious and be focus. It's just making smart decisions."

Greene showed marked improvement in his second game of the season, picking up 64 yards on two returns before giving way to Hunter, but Fisher said better blocking and a more straightforward approach by Savannah State were the big differences.

"It was easier because there was no rugby kicks, and I think we protected better at the line of scrimmage," Fisher said. "But I was pleased with (Greene), and I was pleased with our blocking."

Overall, Florida State is averaging 18.7 yards per punt return so far this season, good for third in the ACC and 15th nationally. A year ago, Reid's punt-return unit ranked 34th overall, but was sixth in return yards per game.

While the return yardage was nice, however, the top priority for Fisher remains fielding the kick cleanly.

"You always have to make sure you're catching the football," Fisher said. "That's the No. 1 goal, take care of that ball. It's always a concern, and we'll continue to work on it hard."