- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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To get ready for the start of Georgia’s spring football practice today, DawgNation has provided a position breakdown for each of the last nine days. In today’s final installment, we analyze the special teams.
2011 starters: P Drew Butler, 2011 senior (58 punts, 2,566 yards, 44.2 yards per punt); PK: Blair Walsh, 2011 senior (21-35 field goals, 46-46 PAT, 109 points); PR: Brandon Boykin, 2011 senior (14 returns, 180 yards, 1 TD, 12.9 yards per return); KOR: Boykin (38-850, 22.4 yards per return); SN: Ty Frix, Sr.
Key losses: Butler, Walsh, Boykin, PK Brandon Bogotay (1-2 FG, 6-6 PAT, 9 points)
Reserves: P: Adam Erickson, So.; PK: Jamie Lindley, Sr.; Scott Eichler, Sr.; PR: Branden Smith, Sr. (9-70, 7.8 yards per return); Malcolm Mitchell, So. (1-minus-1); KOR: Smith (7-131, 18.7 yards per return), Brandon Harton, Jr. (1-30); SN: Nathan Theus, RFr. (Redshirted)
New faces: Considering that the Bulldogs lost nearly all of their starting specialists, Bulldogs fans are sure to see lots of new faces on special teams this fall. Georgia signed punter Collin Barber (Cartersville, Ga./Cartersville) to replace Butler and kicker Marshall Morgan (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./American Heritage) to replace Walsh, but neither player will arrive until the summer.
Spring goal: Special teams will certainly be an area of emphasis this spring -- and not just because of all of the new specialists the Bulldogs must break in before the opener against Buffalo. Georgia’s kick coverage teams were mostly awful last season and Mark Richt’s coaching staff spent extra time this offseason re-evaluate their methods in an attempt to shore up any deficiencies. He vowed to assign more of Georgia’s starters to the various coverage units if that will prevent so many long returns.
Worth watching: Competition for the kicking duties won’t truly take shape until Barber and Morgan arrive on campus, but the battle for the kick return duties starts now. Georgia has an assortment of skill-position players who returned kicks in high school, but almost nobody who has done so in college. Boykin handled those duties almost exclusively down the stretch last season and Smith is nearly the only Georgia player who has returned a single kickoff or punt in college. Richt warned recently that a key factor in the evaluation will be players -- particularly punt returners -- proving that they can hold onto the ball during returns.
Area of concern: The inexperience across the board here is an obvious concern. Preseason practice will likely prove that Georgia’s special teams units have plenty of talent and potential, but it will be a work in progress this spring.
Position grade: C. This grade could rise significantly in the fall. Georgia had very good specialists in Boykin, Butler and Walsh (despite his struggles at times), but the Bulldogs’ kick coverage was abysmal. They were 10th in the SEC in net punting and dead last in kickoff coverage defense. Richt has said all the right things about devoting more attention to special teams this season, but the Bulldogs have plenty to prove in that area this fall.