ATHENS – Georgia finally has a special teams coordinator – not a co-coordinator, but one coach overseeing all the units. Maybe that’s due to Kirby Smart’s philosophy. More likely, though, it’s due to some fortuitous circumstances.
Shane Beamer was available.
Smart and Beamer are longtime friends, having met through coaching circles and on the recruiting trail. Smart’s hire as Georgia’s coach coincided with the retirement of Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech. So when Smart was putting together his staff — which he started off by saying may have a special teams coordinator, if he could make it work on the nine-assistant limit — he connected with Beamer, the pieces on his staff fit, and voila: Georgia had a special teams coach.
Beamer’s welcome to Georgia boiled down to this: You need a place-kicker, a punter, a long snapper and a holder. But hey, you do have Isaiah McKenzie to return kicks, assuming he can keep his hamstring healthy.
OK, Shane, good luck!
Beamer may have solved one of the problems even before spring practice, when he flipped the commitment of Marshall Long, a punter who had been committed to Beamer at Virginia Tech.
(If you haven’t read last week’s Next Generation story on Long, please do, and it has an informative section on how Beamer recruited Long at both Virginia Tech and Georgia.)
As for the other spots, five weeks of spring practice moved the needle a bit, but plenty remains to be ironed out when preseason practice begins in August.
Here are how the major special teams spots break down:
- Starters: Rodrigo Blankenship, R-Fr., or William Ham, Soph.
- Backups: Blankenship or Ham.
- Others: Thomas Pritchard, Sr.; Mitchell Rostowsky, Fr.
- On the way: Mitchell Wasson, Fr.
The skinny: In a contest of recruited walk-ons, Blankenship may have entered spring practice with the slightest of edges over Ham, then widened that edge on G-Day – though not so far that Ham can’t catch up. Blankenship had a pretty good spring game, making a 46-yarder along with a 19-yarder and all three extra point tries, while missing a 40-yarder at the end of the first half. Ham, on the other hand, was 0-for-2 on field goals, though one of them, a 46-yarder, was due to a bad snap.
Wasson joins the fray this preseason. He was initially headed to Alabama as a recruited walk-on, but changed his mind.
For all the deserved attention on the quarterback competition, the place-kicking spot will also end up being vital. The nature of the season opener — against North Carolina in the Georgia Dome – looms very large for such a pressure-filled role.
- Starter: Brice Ramsey, Jr.
- Backups: Will Cowart, Soph.; Tanner Stumpe, Soph.
- On the way: Marshall Long, Fr.
The skinny: At kicker, nobody’s on scholarship. At punter, both candidates are. Well, one of them (Ramsey) is also a quarterback, but he punts well enough to be on scholarship somewhere. But the fact Smart and Beamer gave one to Long indicates at least some preference for not having someone in a split role. If Long lives up to his billing in the preseason, he’s likely to grab the job, letting Ramsey concentrate on quarterback.
- Starter: Trent Frix, Sr.
- Backups: John Courson, Soph.; Hudson Reynolds, R-Fr.
- The skinny: Little-known fact: Long served as the long snapper on field goals for his high school team. But as of two weeks ago, when I spoke to him, he had not had any discussions about doing that at Georgia. Frix is the clear favorite, having played in 10 games last year, when he was the top backup and occasionally filled in for Nate Theus, who has since graduated. Frix has the lineage: He’s the younger brother of former Georgia long snapper Ty Frix, and his father Mitch Frix was the team’s long snapper from 1981-82. Basically, if you’re looking for long-snapping advice, find a Frix family reunion and go crazy.
- Starter: Isaiah McKenzie, Jr.
- Backups: Reggie Davis, Sr.; Terry Godwin, Soph.; Sony Michel, Jr.
- On the way: Mecole Hardman, Fr.; Elijah Holyfield, Fr.; Tyler Simmons, Fr.
- The skinny: McKenzie is the main punt returner, barring injury (and he’s had a few) or something else. The 5-foot-8 (in high tops) speedster is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and owns four career punt return touchdowns. He also has a kick return touchdown, as a freshman; so why did he only return four kickoffs last year? And why isn’t he back there for every single punt return? It’s worth pointing out that Davis brought back a punt for a touchdown last year too, and averaged a not-too-shabby 23.2 yards per kick return. But his longest kickoff return was only 39 yards last year. It’ll be interesting to see where Smart and Beamer go here: Get McKenzie, their most dynamic return option, back there as much as possible? Or do they end up with the same worries the previous staff had about McKenzie’s decision-making and ball control? If it’s the latter, then Godwin, Michel and the freshmen offer intriguing options.
Next up: Offensive line.
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