ATHENS — Kirby Smart could smile, laugh and quip that he was “scared to death” of Georgia’s place-kicking situation on signing day because there was still plenty of time to fix it.
It’ll be interesting to see how he feels about it after the spring.
It’s been a decade since Georgia entered the season without a place-kicker on scholarship. The program has been used to four-year administrations: Marshall Morgan (2012-15), Blair Walsh (2008-11), and prior to that Billy Bennett (2000-03). Even in the intervening years there was Andy Bailey, brought to campus on scholarship, and Brandon Coutu, who went from walk-on to scholarship.
So it’s been a long, long time – probably since Smart himself was a player — since Georgia had this much mystery about its kicking situation.
So, scared to death actually seems about right.
Smart has the previous staff a bit to blame for this. For as much as Mark Richt had set up his place-kicking situation throughout his tenure, right up until the end he and John Lilly, who handled the place-kickers, didn’t know who the team’s kicker in 2016 would be. The hope initially had been on Rodrigo Blankenship, who came to campus last year as a preferred walk-on, with the idea of earning a scholarship. But in his first year on campus Blankenship didn’t do enough to make either the previous staff or Smart say: “He’s our guy.”
Maybe Blankenship, who was a U.S. Army All-American kicker, will still end up the man. But Smart and Beamer just accepted Mitchell Wasson, a preferred walk-on who initially committed to Alabama. So that tells you something. Blankenship will have competition on the way, so he’ll need to use this spring wisely.
“At field goal kicker, we want to find out what we have here in the spring,” Smart said. “We really don’t know as a staff exactly what we’ve got. We’ll find that out in the spring. We’re going to try to get some kids in here whether it’s by way of transfer or by way of walk-on. We’re going to try to get the best kickers we can to try to make that a competitive environment and improve the kicking game and essentially find a guy that can be the field goal kicker for us.”
As we continue on this series, let’s be honest, a few of these position analyses offer less mystery. Not this one. This should be one of the most-watched storylines of the spring.
- Returning starter: None.
- Others returning: Rodrigo Blankenship, R-Fr.; Thomas Pritchard, Sr.; Tanner Stumpe, Soph.
- Early enrollees: None.
- On the way: William Ham, Soph.
- Analysis: Ham is re-joining the team after a year away. He initially came to campus in 2014 as a preferred walk-on, then sat out last year. It’s not clear yet whether Ham will be back for the spring; he’s not yet listed on the team’s online roster, but neither are Jacob Eason and the other early enrollees. Long signed as a punter, but if there are no other options could he be tried at place-kicker? Not likely, given the specialties of kicking these days. And then there’s Brice Ramsey, who while he looked good punting last year was known in high school for being a better place-kicker than punter. So if Smart and company get really desperate … but that would be a longshot too.
- Bottom line: Right now this figures to be a competition between Blankenship and Ham, with the chance of another candidate joining the fray this summer, if Shane Beamer and Smart don’t like what they see this spring. This position is as wide open as any on the team.
Next: Punters and long snappers.