March 16, 2009

Focus: Special Teams

Back a couple of months ago, Georgia coach Mark Richt joked about going to Poland to recruit someone to handle kickoffs for the Bulldogs this fall.

With Georgia set to kick of spring practice Tuesday afternoon, that part of the Bulldogs' special teams' personnel remains status quo.

"That's a great question. That's probably the biggest question. Blair Walsh is a fine extra point and field goal man. We've got Andrew Jensen and Jamie Lindley competing with Blair there. Blair has learned some things about staying fresh throughout the year," Richt said. "Most of our best kickoff men have been walk-ons, so we'll have some guys put their name in the hat too."

Here's the reason for Richt's concern:

The Bulldogs' penchant for directional kicks when the wind wasn't in the team's favor proved to be an issue of consistency for Walsh, who like many kickers, also found it tough to adjust to the NCAA's new rule now forcing teams to kick off from the 30-yard line.

However, when asked to execute directional kicks, Walsh scuffled, pushing a number out of bounds and causing some to wonder why Bulldog coaches just don't kick it straight down the field to avoid such penalties from occurring.

Former Bulldog kicker Rex Robinson was recently asked why not simply kick the ball down the middle of the field?

Robinson said the answer to that is simple: The ball might get returned for a touchdown.

"That's Coach Fab's (kickoff coach Jon Fabris) worst nightmare. He's going to try and avoid that at all cost. That's the reason he chose not to go with just a regular deep kickoff," Robinson said. "What he's doing is taking the pressure off the coverage guys and put it on Blair and that's tough on a 19-year-old kid with his height and weight."

Kickoffs notwithstanding, Walsh enjoyed a decent freshman season, converting 15 of 24 field goals and all 50 of his extra points, number that placed him fifth in the SEC in both the numbers of kicks made and percentage (65.2).

Finding a cure for their kickoff woes won't be the only special team storylines that will be developing this spring.

Redshirt sophomore Drew Butler looks to put his stamp as the team's starting punter, after serving as the Bulldogs' corner specialist last fall. Butler will also serve as the holder on field goals and extra points.

Meanwhile, Ty Frix, Derek Rich and Billy Johnson are battling it out to see who replaces Bo Fowler as the team's long-snapper, while Prince Miller and Reshad Jones are expected to handle punt returns.

Backup quarterback Logan Gray is also currently on the depth chart as a possible return man, but told UGASports recently that he does not expect to do so come fall.

Miller averaged 21.2 yards on nine returns last fall, including a 92-yarder against Alabama.

Sophomore Brandon Boykin and redshirt freshman Carlton Thomas are currently listed 1-2 at kick returner, although they're expected to be joined by Richard Samuel in the fall.

Samuel is sitting out spring to rehab his injured wrist but will be ready to play.



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