ATHENS — Georgia has had some really good punters over the years. It has none at the moment.
Well, not none as in nobody. But almost. Ever heard of Will Cowart? No? At present, Cowart is the only full-time punter listed on Georgia’s roster. He’s a transfer from La Grange College.
The Bulldogs do have a few part-time punters on campus for spring practice. You may have heard of Brice Ramsey. However, he’s expected to be a little busy working on his other job this spring. He also plays quarterback. There’s also a collection of place-kickers on the roster who have some high school and/or college-practice experience punting the football.
Later this summer, they’ll be joined by Marshall Long, a class-of-2016 signee out of China Grove, N.C. That’s notable in that Georgia doesn’t always employ a scholarship punter. It did the previous four years, but that didn’t go so well.
Collin Barber was a highly-sought-after punter when he signed with the Bulldogs out of Cartersville in 2012. He averaged 41.5 yards on 60 punts as a freshman and helped Georgia reach the SEC Championship game. And his average actually went up to 44.1 as a sophomore as the Bulldogs deployed a “pooch punter” for close-in kicks.
But Barber never was the same after sustaining a concussion on a blocked punt at Tennessee midway through the 2013 season. In the end, he lost his job to Ramsey as a senior this past season.
Until Long gets here, who will punt this spring is anybody’s guess. Here’s the breakdown. …
- Returning starter: None.
- Others returning: Rodrigo Blankenship, R-Fr.; Thomas Pritchard, Sr.; Tanner Stumpe, So.
- Early enrollees: Will Cowart, R.So.
- On the way: Marshall Long, Fr.
- Analysis: On paper, Georgia’s punting numbers from last season don’t look that bad, with a 40.1-yard average between Collin Barber (39.9 ypg) and Brice Ramsey (41.9). But they look downright horrific when placed into context. The Bulldogs were 100th in the nation and 11th in the SEC in net punting (35.72), which takes into account returns. Only LSU, Kentucky and Vanderbilt were worse. So Georgia had a problem even if everybody was back. And they’re not. Barber has graduated and there are indications coach Kirby Smart might want Ramsey to concentrate on quarterbacking (that’s unconfirmed at this point). That leaves Cowart as the lone dedicated punter this spring. A walkon with a good frame (he’s 6-foot-3 but weighs only 164 pounds), Cowart was redshirted as a freshman at La Grange and played only one game last year, so he was unproven even on that level. More likely, the Bulldogs will turn to a small group of walk-on place-kickers, all of whom had experience in high school and have practiced it at Georgia. Blankenship, a former U.S. Army All-American, was known to be extremely effective as a rugby-style punter at Sprayberry High. But that would require a significant strategic adjustment to utilize and it’s not certain whether Smart or new special teams coordinator Shane Beamer will want to go with something so radically different.
- Bottom line: If Marshall Long turns out as good advertised, all the angst Georgia endures this spring could be much ado about nothing. Long shattered punting records in his region of North Carolina when he averaged 46.5 yards on 57 punts as a senor at South Rowan High. But Long won’t arrive until June. In the meantime, you can expect the Bulldogs to put out a call for walkons to come try out with the team and show their worth. Traditionally Georgia has done very well with walk-on punters, winning a championship with Gordon Ely-Kelso and 21 games over two seasons with Brian Mimbs.
- Returning starter: None.
- Others returning: John Courson, RSo.; Trent Frix, Jr.; Matthew Herzwurm, Jr.; Hudson Reynolds, RFr.
- Early enrollees: None
- On the way: None.
- Analysis: Nobody cares who the snapper is until something goes wrong. Georgia had a very good long-snapper the past couple of seasons in Nathan Theus, older brother of John Theus, the offensive lineman. Both brothers have moved on and both will get NFL looks. Meanwhile, while Nathan Theus primarily handled long snaps on punts — and covered them pretty well, too — Trent Frix carried on the family tradition of delivering snaps on target for placement kicks. But Frix, whose older brother Ty and father Mitch also were long snappers for the Bulldogs, has also handled punt snaps and will certainly be given a look to do that as well. The job won’t be handed to him as at least three other snappers will be vying for playing time, including Courson, the son of Ron Courson, Georgia’s highly-decorated director of sports medicine.
- Bottom line: This extremely important job appears to be in good hands. Increasingly, long-snapping has become a highly-specialized skill that can result in college and pro careers. All of Georgia’s candidates have been attending camps and seminars for years and by all accounts are good at it. But unlike other jobs, whoever wins this one their hope is to not be noticed.
Next: Return specialists