ATHENS — It looks like Georgia has at least one newcomer closing on a starting spot: punter Cameron Nizialek.
Nizialek, the graduate transfer from Columbia, remains ahead of sophomore Marshall Long, who started in 2016 until a broken kneecap ended his season.
“Cam is ahead of Marshall a little bit,” coach Kirby Smart said after his team’s scrimmage Saturday. “Just consistency, direction, hang-time, those things. Just statistically, he’s a little bit ahead. The other one is neck-and-neck. It’s just tight right now.”
There were indications this spring that Nizialek had a chance to win the job. While Long was sitting out, still working his way back from his injury, Nizialek drew praise for his performance.
Long has been back this preseason, but Nizialek has moved ahead, with Saturday being the second time in three days that Smart has said so. Long averaged 38.7 yards on 49 punts in nine games last season. He sat out the remaining four games after sustaining his injury during practice, and was replaced by Brice Ramsey.
Smart indicated he didn’t think Long was suffering any lingering effects of his injury.
“He would tell you that he’s probably mentally a little bit affected. He’s probably still pushing through that,” Smart said. “But health-wise, he’s cleared to go, he’s 100 percent. Mentally I think he’s done a good job of pushing through it and having confidence to go out and stroke it.
“The other kid is just punting the ball really good. It’s not that Marshall is punting it bad.”
As for the kicking competition, Smart reiterated that it was “really tight” between sophomore Rodrigo Blankenship and graduate transfer David Marvin.