Welcome to your one-stop shop for Georgia football news and takes every Monday through Friday. Tuesday, we look at Odell Thurman’s return to Athens, the jersey numbers assigned to the team’s freshmen and Kirby Smart’s renewed focus on special teams.
Georgia football to focus on special teams in camp
Georgia was weak in almost every facet of special teams play in 2016, and coach Kirby Smart has made it clear that improving those units will be a priority for 2017.
“We certainly have some goals for this camp. You know, the areas of concern and areas of improvement for us, special teams would be No. 1. We are going to try to change some things up special teams-wise, as you guys know, from a quality control standpoint. Scott Fountain has joined us. I think he did a tremendous job at Auburn, always has. Has brought a lot of insight to our coaches. He’s going to help us be better special teams and just in practice and organization and things we do. We have to improve in that area.
“We counted, I think we had, I want to say it was 250 snaps on special teams played by true freshmen last year. So, the question becomes: Can the true freshmen this year unseat some of those guys or create a competitive environment to make each one of those better. We’ve got to improve in our kicking units — that’s punting, kickoff coverage, return game, everything. But we plan to do that and we’ll do that in camp.”
But Smart’s renewed focus on special teams bears itself out in more than just how he runs practice. It also bears itself out in his pursuit of Akhil Crumpton, the JUCO return man he brought on as an extremely late signing. Instead of finding a replacement within the team for Isaiah McKenzie after his unexpected leap to the NFL — perhaps forcing a a square peg into a round hole — Smart went out and found a player who could be a like-for-like replacement. In fact, Crumpton is even wearing McKenzie’s No. 16.
“We combed the country looking for an elite returner,” he said before practice on Monday, the first of 29 in preseason camp. “We didn’t feel like we had an elite returner. We really don’t have any experienced returners because we lost two guys [McKenzie and Reggie Davis]. You know Isaiah had done it so long and we weren’t really expecting to lose him. So, when that situation arises, you try to fix your roster as fast as you can.”
What’s in a number?
The beginning of fall camp means we finally get to glimpse the jersey numbers of the team’s freshmen and transfers.
Fresh off the roster, some updated jersey numbers for freshmen: CB Ameer Speed (9), DL Malik Herring (10), DB Tray Bishop (12), WR Trey Blount (14), WR Matt Landers (15), ILB Nate McBride (22), DB William Poole (31), DB Latavious Brini (36), CB Eric Stokes (41), OL Justin Shaffer (54), OL Andrew Thomas (71), OL Netori Johnson (72), OL Isaiah Wilson (79), WR Mark Webb (81) and LB Walter Grant (84).
That’s just the players who enrolled this summer. The early enrollees participated in spring practice and already had their numbers assigned. (FYI: Richard LeCounte, 2; Deangelo Gibbs, 8; J.J. Holloman, 9; Jake Fromm, 11; Monty Rice, 32; and D’Marcus Hayes, 78)
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has a ridiculously talented stable of running backs to work with, but the issue is finding a way to get them all touches. One solution: Let some of the shifty, speedy tailbacks play from the slot.
D’Andre Swift, the freshman tailback, was working with the slots during a passing drill. So were fellow tailbacks Brian Herrien and Sony Michel, and tight ends Isaac Nauta and Jackson Harris. The latter four did so in the spring, and it’s no surprise that Swift, whose reputation goes along with his surname, is joining them.
Senior Dawgs wants to give fans ‘something to celebrate’
UGA’s senior senior class has one final chance to leave a winning legacy at Georgia. Senior OLB Lorenzo Carter knows the stakes. and he’s trying to give Bulldog fans something to celebrate in his final season, as told by Chip Towers.
“I need to win something, man,” Carter said emphatically. “I finished high school with four rings. Coming here to Georgia and having the legacy of the ‘G,’ it’s been a minute. It’s been a minute since Athens has had something to celebrate. So that’s it, trying to come back and give people a reason to be happy.”
Shakenneth Williams seeking medical disqualification
The football career of wide receiver Shakenneth Williams is over. According to Smart, Williams has applied for a medical disqualification, which would allow him to stay on scholarship but not count against the limit of 85 players. Williams had 4 catches in his UGA career, 3 of which came in his freshman season.
Odell Thurman returns to Athens
A fan-favorite former Dawg is back with the team. Former All-SEC linebacker Odell Thurman has joined the program as an intern with the strength and conditioning staff.
“He’s allowed to do what an intern does,” Smart said, according to Seth Emerson of DawgNation. “And we’re glad to have Odell helping out in the weight room, assisting in the roles that he’s allowed to.”
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