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Florida Gators in the NFL, Week 6: Jonathan Greenard stars, Eddy Piñeiro languishes

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One of Florida’s recent defensive stars is coming into his own, while one great Gators kicker is still looking for another shot.

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Thursday Night Football crew member Shawn Kopelakis has a nagging wonder about one of the Gators not on an NFL roster this fall...

There have been a slew of kicking fiascos and injuries in the first six weeks of the National Football League season. And yet, former Gators star Eddy Piñeiro can’t find a job anywhere.

I find it frankly baffling.

Piñeiro was a cult hero before he ever stepped foot on campus in Gainesville, thanks to video of him drilling a 77-yarder in practice while he was at junior college.

At that time, Piñeiro was committed to Alabama, but he soon switched to Florida, committing after a visit on which he rode shotgun with Jim McElwain. And for a kicker-starved fan base, Piñeiro’s range and accuracy, along with undeniable swagger, made him a godsend, and perhaps the most popular kicker in the country.

Remember the chants of “ED-DY” after nearly every kick he drilled through the uprights? Those are not the chants most kickers get.

Piñeiro wasn’t bashful about anything — he chose to wear Tim Tebow’s No. 15 jersey, would engage in big celebrations after kicks in games, and posted crazy, immediately-viral videos, like the one from the summer of 2017 in which he made an 81-yard kick.

So when Piñeiro decided to leave Gainesville early and enter the NFL Draft, no one was surprised by the decision. Surely, NFL success — maybe a lot of it — was ahead for the confident kid from Miami.

Piñeiro went undrafted in 2018, but quickly signed a free agent deal with the Oakland Raiders and was assumed to be their kicker of the future. But then, in what has become a common theme of his professional career, he suffered a groin injury after his first preseason game. The Raiders put him on injured reserve and he never kicked for them again.

The following summer, the Chicago Bears were still recovering from the infamous double doink playoff loss that past January. They traded for Piñeiro and brought him into a fierce kicking competition. He eventually won the job, and in Week 2 of that year, he was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field, including burying a 53-yarder to win the game.

Piñeiro finished 2019 with only five missed field goals and two missed extra points. He made 11 straight FGs to end the season. With a FG percentage of 82.1%, he was tied for 17th, almost exactly in the middle of the pack for NFL kickers. No, that season wasn’t Pro Bowl- level stuff — but it was good for a rookie who was clearly improving as the year went on.

Injury would strike once again. Piñeiro injured his groin in the run up to the 2020 campaign, and the Bears put him on injured reserve before the regular season began.

This summer, the Colts brought Piñeiro in to compete against former Georgia star Rodrigo Blankenship. Blankenship had a good rookie campaign in Indianapolis, so the chances of unseating him were unlikely. Still, Piñeiro was perfect in the exhibition slate...

...but despite that impressive preseason, he was eventually cut. The Washington Football Team signed him to their practice squad at the beginning of this season — but they, too, waived him shortly thereafter.

Which brings us to this week, and a moment of utter bafflement. Both Washington and Indianapolis have replaced their kickers since the beginning of the year, and yet neither team even brought Piñeiro in to compete for the job. 36 kickers have attempted field goals this season — many of them less experienced, less accurate, and with much less range than Piñeiro — but he can’t get a roster spot, at least at present.

I said it at the start of the season, and I still believe it: Piñeiro will eventually get another shot in the league. But with each passing week bringing more kicking struggles, it’s really hard to understand why it hasn’t happened yet.

Player of the Week

A few weeks ago, I watched Jon Greenard in person on Thursday Night Football. It was his first game of the season, and he was all over the Panthers’ backfield, recording a sack, tackle for loss, and a forced fumble. The next week, he was limited by a chest injury, but returned in Week 5 to register another sack. It was in Week Six, however, when Greenard had his best game yet, racking up two sacks, six tackles, three QB hits, and two TFLs.

He’s only played four games — and really only gone the distance in three, since he was injured for most of one — but still leads the Texans in sacks with four, tied for 16th in the league. Texans coach David Culley has praised Greenard, saying he is getting home whenever he’s in a one-on-one matchup.

After a slow start for a lowly franchise that has starved for pass rush since the best days of J.J. Watt pairing with Jadeveon Clowney, Greenard is starting to figure things out, and could be headed toward a double-digit sack season — something only Dante Fowler and Carlos Dunlap have done as former Gators this century.

Play of the Week

Demarcus Robinson hauled in the only touchdown in Week 6 to earn play of the week honors. Robinson isn’t known for his speed, but he blew right past a Washington corner here for the easy score.

It was Robinson’s second TD grab this season, and the 13th of his career. He’s now 18th all-time among former Gators in TD catches.

Here are all of the Week 6 stats (ranked and tiered in order of performance):

The Good

  • Jonathan Greenard: 6 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 QB hits, 27 snaps (56%)
  • Demarcus Robinson: 3 rec, 46 yards, 1 TD, 57 snaps (70%)
  • Marco Wilson: 5 tackles, 1 pass defended, 56 snaps (95%)
  • Alex Anzalone: 7 tackles, 72 snaps (100%)
  • D.J. Humphries: 68 snaps (91%)
  • Max Garcia: 68 snaps (91%)
  • Joe Haden: 3 tackles, 65 snaps (100%)
  • Van Jefferson: 3 rec, 19 yds, 42 snaps (64%)
  • Keanu Neal: 4 tackles, 32 snaps (59%)
  • Freddie Swain: 2 rec, -4 yds, 2 punt returns, 17 yards, 51 snaps (78%)
  • Jawaan Taylor: 66 snaps (100%)
  • Janoris Jenkins: 3 tackles, 76 snaps (99%)
  • Evan McPherson: 2/2 FG, Long 40, 4/4 XP
  • Johnny Townsend: 2 punts, 53.5 Avg

The Limited

  • Kadarius Toney: 3 rec, 36 yards, 6 snaps (8%), left with ankle injury
  • Tommy Townsend: 2 punts, 26.5 Avg
  • Vernon Hargreaves III: 40 snaps (83%), no stats
  • Carlos Dunlap: 39 snaps (52%), no stats
  • Tyrie Cleveland: 1 tackle, 10 offensive snaps (12%), 13 ST snaps (42%)
  • Lerentee McCray: 3 defensive snaps (4%), 21 ST snaps (75%), no stats
  • Fred Johnson: 13 snaps (18%), first game action of 2021
  • T.J. Slaton: 1 tackle, 7 snaps (11%)
  • Jeff Driskel: no snaps

The Inactive

  • Trent Brown: DNP (calf)
  • Jonotthan Harrison: DNP (Achilles)
  • C.J. Henderson: Inactive
  • Kyle Trask: Inactive
  • Taven Bryan: Inactive
  • Stone Forsythe: Inactive
  • Kyle Pitts: Bye Week
  • Dante Fowler, Jr.: Bye Week
  • Marcell Harris: Bye Week
  • Chauncey Gardner-Johnson: Bye Week
  • Marcus Maye: Bye Week
  • Feleipe Franks: Bye Week
  • Jonathan Bullard: Bye Week
  • La’mical Perine: Bye Week