ATHENS — Rodrigo Blankenship certainly has been a difference-maker for the Bulldogs the last few weeks, and that’s due in part to the presence of Kevin Butler.
The all-time leading scorer for the NFL’s Chicago Bears (1,116 points) when he retired, Butler returned to school this fall to complete some long left-over coursework toward his degree and, as a result, joined Kirby Smart’s staff as a student assistant coach for special teams. It took a while, but it’s paying dividends on the field for Georgia
“Absolutely he is (making a difference),” Smart said. “That’s huge. … KB’s been awesome. I mean he’s been good for me from a kicking standpoint, he’s been good for Rodrigo, (William) Ham, Marshall (Long), for all those guys, Shoot, he’s been great, just the confidence he provides.
“It was almost like the perfect set-up for the year of new specialists. To have him involved has been really good.”
Georgia struggled in virtually every phase of the kicking game early in the season and still ranks among the worst in the SEC in several categories, including punting (14th) and kickoff coverage (13th). But they’ve shown steady improvement in the place-kicking and returns phases, and Smart gives Butler a lot of credit for that.
Blankenship, a redshirt freshman walkon, has gone from a backup role at the beginning of the season to third in the SEC in field-goal percentage (.846) on 11-of-13 place-kicking.
Butler also assists Smart in the decision-making process in terms of what Blankenship’s range is going to be from game to game. But that’s not an on-the-fly process.
“I don’t like to make decisions in the heat of the moment like that,” Smart said. “That decision’s made in the pregame warmups and on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. I talk to several people, James Vollano, Shane (Beamer), Kevin, and we have a meeting and we say this is his yard-line here and this is his yard-line here based on the wind, and that’s the yard line. … I don’t think you always make good decisions when calmer heads don’t prevail sometimes.”
Butler, 54, was a two-time All-American and four-time All-SEC selection at Georgia. He remains the school’s all-time leading scorer with 353 points (122 PAT’s, 77 field goals). His points and 77 field goals are still second most in SEC history for career scoring by any player.
Butler played 11 seasons with the Bears and won a Super Bowl as a rookie in 1985.