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Depth chart breakdown: Special teams
One of the hallmarks of Georgia football over the last decade has been questionable special teams play. Toward the end of the Mark Richt’s tenure in Athens and at the beginning of Kirby Smart’s, you never knew what you were going to get from the Dawgs’ special teams’ units, but it usually wasn’t good. At times, it was bad to the point of parody.
That changed last season. Former Auburn special teams coordinator Scott Fountain joined the staff as a special teams consultant and helped Smart turn around Georgia’s special teams. Punter Cameron Nizialek transferred from Columbia and became one of the surprises of the season, while Rodrigo Blankenship transitioned from folk hero to one of the most clutch kickers in college football. It was the best season Georgia has put together on special teams in ages. Now the challenge is to repeat that feat year after year.
To do that, Smart hired Fountain as special teams coordinator, giving him a chance to not only continue to dictate the special teams strategy but also work 1-on-1 with players. Blankenship is back and should be better, and there are a number of potential standouts to return kicks. The only unknown is punter, where another knee injury to Marshall Long has left the position a question mark.
Smart and Fountain have plenty to figure out, but for the first time in ages, the big question on special teams entering the season isn’t, “Will Georgia be good?” It’s, “How good will Georgia be?”
This post is part of an ongoing series breaking down Georgia’s post-spring depth chart position by position. For links to the other posts in this series, check the bottom of this section.
- Rodrigo Blankenship (Jr.) — Already a UGA legend and cult hero for what he did in the Rose Bowl, Blankenship enters his junior year hitting 34 of 41 career field-goal attempts and all 89 PATs. He’ll be one of the best kickers in the SEC this season and could find himself in the conversation for the Groza Award. He’s Georgia’s greatest special teams weapon.
- Brooks Buce (R-Fr.) — Buce, a walk-on, missed field goals of 33 and 43 yards in the no-pressure environment of G-Day, so I don’t expect him to see the field.
- Landon Stratton (Grad.) — It’s only been a few days since it was announced Stratton would transfer from Murray State to Georgia, and the news of Long’s injury makes him the favorite for the punter job. Stratton averaged more than 40 yards a punt for three seasons at Murray State. e’s drawn comparisons to Nizialek, another grad transfer, but it remains to be seen if he can transition to the SEC as seamlessly as his predecessor.
- Jake Camarda (Fr.) — Stratton’s greatest competition will come from Camarda. He was already in line to compete for the starting punter job when he eventually arrives in Athens, but Long going down gives him a better shot to win the job. Regardless of what happens this year, Camarda is the future of Georgia’s special teams and should be starting at either punter or kicker in a few years.
- Marshall Long (R-So.) — Long was considered one of the favorites to start at punter, which would have meant reclaiming the job he lost after a knee injury during his freshman season. You have to feel for him and hope he can recover enough to compete again one day.
- Bill Rubright (R-Fr.) — A walk-on, Rubright pushed Long during the spring, but he won’t challenge Stratton or Camarda.
- Michael D’Angola (Sr.) — Another walk-on. Don’t expect to see him unless the Dawgs are up by 50 on senior day.
- Mecole Hardman (Jr.) — Hardman had the highest punt return and second-highest kick return averages in the SEC last season, but was never able to break one for a touchdown. He’s focused on breaking one this year. Based on the number of times last year he was shoelace away from scoring, I wouldn’t bet against it.
- Ahkil Crumpton (Sr.) — Crumpton was a star return man in junior college and showed plenty of wiggle and burst at receiver as a junior. He could push Hardman to be top return man come fall.
- Kearis Jackson (Fr.) — Jackson, an early enrollee, is the wild card here. He’s shown promise and could push his name into the conversation for snaps on returns as a freshman.
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It’s the offseason, which means college football publications are pumping out lists, rankings and superlatives to kill the dead hours between now and September. As a rule, these lists and rankings mean nothing, but they can be interesting to look at because they give us an idea of how national media views Georgia’s position in the college football landscape. I’m going to begin gathering lists and rankings that include Georgia in some shape or fashion and including them here.
Up first is CBS Sports’ ranking of the Top 25 Power 5 coaches in college football, which has Kirby Smart ranked eighth.
No coach climbed higher in the rankings this year than Smart, who was at 54 last year because he was 8-5 at Georgia and had no track record. Well, winning the SEC and nearly winning a national title will go a long way to boosting your reputation. Some of us are more convinced than others, however, as Patterson and Palm have Smart ranked fifth, while Barrett Sallee has him at 22. I’m in the middle at 13. 2017 rank: 54 (+46)
It’s finally Swift’s time to shine in Athens after serving as the No. 3 back behind Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, who formed the most productive running back duo in college football history. He’s an electric, hard-hitting runner who’s all the more dangerous for his home-run threat and pass-catching ability. He’ll be the No. 1 back in a group that likely includes Zamir White and Elijah Holyfield.
Finally, ESPN selected a spring breakout player for each team in its preseason Top 25, and ILB Monty Rice earned the spot for No. 4 Georgia.
All eyes were on inside linebacker this spring with Roquan Smith having moved on to the NFL, and it appears that a strong candidate to replace him has emerged. Rice, a sophomore and former 4-star prospect, shined at G-Day by leading all players with 14 tackles.
Odds & Ends
- Which top undecided targets can UGA recruiting land in 2019?
- Former Georgia gymnastics assistant coach Charlie Tamayo was fired for misusing UGA-issued credit card
- Clemson AD indicates UGA football series is close: ‘It just makes an awful lot of sense’
- Chicago writer issues apology for Roquan Smith take
Dawgs on Twitter
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) May 10, 2018
Don't forget that @UGAWomensTennis hosts the First and Second Rounds of the NCAA Championship this weekend!
The #Dawgs take on Georgia State at 3pm on Friday.
🎟️: Available one our before the first match of the day at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex ticket office.
— Georgia Bulldogs (@UGAAthletics) May 10, 2018
— Georgia Baseball (@BaseballUGA) May 10, 2018
May the weekend bring you the joy a pile of leaves brought this pup.
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