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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Making Special Teams Special Again

Georgia’s special teams responsibilities have been officially divvied out among the assistant coaches.

Wide receivers coach Tony Ball will handle kickoff returns and tight ends coach John Lilly will be in charge of punting and punt coverage, just as they were last year. The Bulldogs led the nation in punting in 2009 and kick returner Brandon Boykin scored three touchdowns on returns.

The shakeups occur in the units formerly coached by dismissed defensive ends coach Jon Fabris.

Punt return duties will fall to second-year running backs coach Bryan McClendon, who returned punts and kicks for the Bulldogs as a player in 2003 and 2004.

Lilly will handle overall special teams coordination, setting up meetings and practice times, Richt said, but will not hold the title of special teams coordinator

The most notable change, however, comes on the much maligned kickoff coverage team, which will now be headed up by Warren Belin, who coached that unit for eight seasons at Vanderbilt. If last season tells us anything, this should be one of the biggest steps forward for Georgia in 2010.

To wit…

Last season, Vandy ranked second in the SEC in kick coverage and 29th nationally, allowing an average of 20.2 yards per return.

Georgia ranked last in the SEC and 117th nationally in kick coverage nationally, allowing an average of 25.71 yards per return.

How much of a difference was that really?

Vandy allowed 550 fewer kick return yards than Georgia for the season, and at five yards per kick, it probably made a difference of 20 to 25 yards of field position per game, which is hardly insignificant.

Of course, the other important thing to remember is -- Vandy was doing it with worse players.

I won't get into the coverage unit itself, since it should be fairly obvious that the backups at UGA should be every bit as skilled athletically as the starters for Vandy. There's absolutely no question that Georgia should be able to cover kicks as well as Belin's old squad.

But let's look at the kickers.

Vandy finished second in the SEC in coverage despite the fact that their kicker -- Ryan Fowler -- had just three touchbacks all season.

Georgia finished last in woeful fashion, despite the fact that its kicker -- Blair Walsh -- was a Groza finalist and led the SEC with 17 touchbacks.

So to be clear, Walsh had fourteen more kickoffs than Fowler in which the opposition wasn't able to return the kick, and Georgia still allowed an average of five more yards per kickoff return for the season.


ealey/king=win said...


JM from Louisville said...

just to throw it out there...

could it be that a worse kicker for vandy could be a major variable.

if their kicker only gets it to the 10-15 yd line on most kicks, the 20 yd average will still put the ball at the 30-35 yd line (which is right where uga allowed opponents to start with walsh putting it on the 5-10 yd line)

the big question is, "are shorter kicks easier to cover?"

richt seems to have whole-heartedly affirmed that question last year.

BZ said...

I'm confused, the post says that John Lilly will be in charge of punts and punt return coverage, just like last year. Then it says that Bryan McClendon will handle punt return duties. Maybe im not reading it right or something, but who is doing what with the punts. Hopefully Logan gray won't be anywhere close to the ball on punt returns. All that does is let the other team know we are fair catching it and could be coming for the block... Just saying

David Hale said...

Lilly is handling punting -- i.e. what Drew Butler does.

McClendon is handling punt returns -- i.e. what Logan Gray shouldn't be doing.

Schlagdawg said...


Anonymous said...

"Lilly will handle overall special teams coordination...but will not hold the title of special teams coordinator"

UGA69Dawg said...

17 Touchback Vs 3. Lets face it there would be many KO's that you would not see a UGA player until the return man had run 10 -15 yards. Line the D up and the fastest 10 are the KO team. It's not rocket science.

SamoaDawg said...

Whatever happened to that kicker we signed from San Diego? I can't remember his name. Did we waste a scholar on him?

Anonymous said...

Brandon Bogatay is the kicker that we signed from Cali. Yeah, we did use a scholarship on him, but I wouldn't call it a totally wasted one. I remember Richt, prior to this past season, saying that the signing of another kicker helped to push Blair Walsh harder in his practice and preparation. And Walsh's stats from this season seem to back that up:

Dawgfan17 said...

Covering kicks, heck actual some sort of emphasis on special teams, all this coming the day after players talking about learning fundamentals of the game, crazy stuff going on right now.