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(Lauren Tolbert/UGA Athletics)
Georgia punter Jake Camarda (R) hopes to improve on his consistency and control as a sophomore and second-year starter in 2019.

SPRING PREVIEW: Georgia punter Jake Camarda seeks across-the-board improvement in second season

Chip Towers

PRE-SPRING FOOTBALL ANALYSIS

Part IX: Punt, punt return & snappers

This is Part 9 in a series breaking down and analyzing each position group for the Georgia Bulldogs in advance of spring football practice, which is scheduled to begin on March 19.

ATHENS — When it comes to leg strength, no one questions Jake Camarda. The Georgia punter demonstrated as a true freshman that he can absolutely launch a football with his right foot. His season long of 63 yards wasn’t even his best one. He booted a couple for touchbacks that would’ve approached 70 yards in the field of play.

Therein was the problem. It seemed no matter how far Georgia needed Camarda to punt the football, it almost always sailed 50 or more yards. And the few times it didn’t usually meant it went off the side of his foot.

Nevertheless, the Bulldogs saw enough of Camarda last season — and they saw a lot of him — to know they’ve got themselves a good punter. They simply need him to harness that powerful leg and control it. As a true freshman, Camarda started every game and handled every punt for the Bulldogs and he averaged a healthy 42.6 yards while doing so.

But Camarda had way too many touchbacks with eight. For comparison’s sake, Cameron Nizalek had just four touchbacks in 15 games in 2017, and one of those was intentional. Nizalek also had 26 punts downed inside the 20-yard line and 27 of them end in fair catches. Camarda had 10 and 16, respectively, in that regard.

Of course, Nizalek was a graduate transfer when he punted for the Bulldogs. Camarda is a mere babe. Improvement will surely be made in the coming seasons. In fact, it will be demanded.

“He hits the ball well,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of Camarda. “It’s just sometimes that he out-kicks his coverage. We want our distance and hang (time) to match, meaning if we kick it 50 yards, we want 5-second hang.”

Such refinements will certainly come for Camarda, who is well-versed in the art of kicking a football. He arrived at Georgia ranked as the nation’s No. 1 punter and No. 4 place-kicker, according to the Kohl’s Kicking, considered the ultimate authority on that discipline. So Camarda knows where to get help if he needs it beyond the full-time presence of special teams coach Scott Fountain.

The Bulldogs need Camarda to come through, for the options outside of him are few at the moment. Graduate transfer Landon Stratton has moved on, as has fellow scholarship punter Marshall Long, who had to hang up his cleats due to chronic knee injuries. That leaves the Bulldogs with Bill Rubright and whatever other walkons join the team by fall camp.

Meanwhile, whatever improvements Camarda makes will have to come while breaking in a new long snapper. Georgia’s very dependable Nick Moore has graduated and is trying to make an NFL team. He was the latest in one has been a long and consistent legacy of excellent snappers.

The Bulldogs have brought in three prospects to compete for the job in Palmer Henderson, Steven Nixon and Payne Walker.

“I’ve worked a lot with all of these guys and I’m excited to see where this competition goes and how much better each will get as snappers,” Moore told DawgNation’s Mike Griffith at the Senior Bowl. “No matter what happens, Georgia is going to have a great long snapper. I’m looking forward to seeing it unfold.”

The Bulldogs also have a significant void to fill at punt returner with the early exit of Mecole Hardman for the NFL. As a junior Hardman led the nation with 20.1-yard punt return average, including a 70-yarder for a touchdown. Georgia also lost backup returners Terry Godwin and Ahkil Crumpton to graduation.

So the Bulldogs will be starting from scratch in 2019. They have many candidates, including Eric Stokes. The junior cornerback will be the only returning player with a career return. That came on a blocked punt for a touchdown against Missouri.

Let’s take a look at Georgia’s punting game:

THE PUNTING GAME

  • Returning starters: Punters — Jake Camarda, 6-2, 180, So.; punt returners — none; snappers — none
  • Others returning: Punters — Brooks Buce, 6-0, 175, RSo.; Jack Podlesny, 6-4, 180, RFr.; returners — Demetris Robertson, 6-0, 190, Jr.; Eric Stokes, 6-1, 185, Jr.; Tyson Campbell, 6-2, 185, So.; Kearis Jackson, 6-0, 200, RFr.
  • Early enrollees: N/A
  • On the way: Dominick Blaylock, 6-1, 195, freshman
  • Analysis: Punting was not a factor in the majority of Georgia’s games in 2018, but it could’ve been a problem if it was. The primary stat for punters is not that alarming as Camarda’s average punt went 42.6 yards, which was ninth among SEC punters. But breaking it down further it, one can see where it might’ve cost the Bulldogs had they played more close contests. In the SEC, Camarda was 11th in net punting (37.3 yards), 13th in gross punting yards, 14th on punts downed inside the 20 (10), and 22nd in touchbacks (8). A more competitive schedule in 2019 should mean more tight contests, so Camarda needs to tighten up on all facets. … Finding a dynamic returner will be a high priority as well. Or, at the least, a reliable punt catcher.
  • Bottom line: Paired with the kicking game of Rodrigo Blankenship, a solid punting game will give Georgia the opportunity to dominate the special teams facet of every game the way it did in 2017. Camarda has the talent and experience to make a huge leap in Year Two. The competition for premier punt returner should be intense as the Bulldogs will have the type of athletes surrounding that person that should provide ample opportunities to create Sports Center highlights.

UP NEXT: More than any other position on the defensive side of the ball, Georgia needs the ‘Big Uglies’ up front to come through.

SPRING FOOTBALL PREVIEW