ATHENS — The chances are good that when Georgia opens next season, the kicker will be Rodrigo Blankenship and the punter will be Marshall Long. That hasn’t changed.
There just might be more competition along the way. Especially on kickoffs.
That’s the state of things with Georgia’s kicking specialists, amid a flurry of activity when it comes to walk-ons committing to joining the program.
The latest is Brooks Buce, a kicker from Norcross. Earlier this month Cameron Nizialek, who kicked and punted at Columbia, announced he was coming to Georgia as a graduate transfer.
There could be more on the way, with Cairo High School’s Cole Phillips still a possibility as a walk-on. All of this appears to be about adding depth and competition.
“Anytime you bring in more kids from a competition standpoint, it’s good for you. That will help Rodrigo,” said Marc Nolan, a kicking coach in the Atlanta area who has worked with many of the current and soon-to-be Georgia specialists.
A quick look at where things stand with Georgia’s three kicking spots:
Blankenship, coming off being named a freshman All-American, is the incumbent at kicker. He will be remaining with the program despite no assurance of a scholarship, a decision that will be made in August.
William Ham elected to leave the team, after losing his starting job last season. His spot is essentially taken by Buce, who Nolan says compares to Mitchell Wasson, another walk-on who joined the team last year. Wasson, who wasn’t a factor in the competition last season, remains on the team at this point.
Buce, Nizialek and perhaps others will be given a chance to show what they can do. But supplanting Blankenship, who was 14-for-18 on field goals and perfect on extra points, will be difficult. He still needs to prove he can hit the long ones — his longest last year was 49 yards — but frankly if Georgia was bringing in someone with a longer leg, they’d be on scholarship.
This is where Blankenship has the most work to do. His kickoff yardage average was only eighth in the SEC, and had touchbacks on only 36 percent of his kickoffs.
Buce had a very good touchback percentage at Norcross last year. But you’re also kicking off from the 40, and if it goes in the end zone it can’t be returned. The tee also can be higher. Nizialek did kick off at Columbia, but was not the primary kickoff man last year.
Nolan feels Blankenship mainly needs to improve the hang time on his kickoffs. If he does that, he likely would have the job again.
“I really think Rodrigo can do the kickoff and field goal job,” Nolan said. ”If he’s left alone and can focus, he’ll have an awesome career there.”
Long had an okay freshman season before breaking his kneecap in practice, ending his season after nine games. He only averaged 38.7 yards, but 14 of his 49 punts were downed inside the 20 and 14 were fair catches. It’s something to build on for his sophomore season.
Long’s recovery has hit no setbacks, apparently, but you have to be ready. Brice Ramsey, who filled in over the final four games, will be a senior, but he wouldn’t be an option if he elects to transfer once he graduates this summer.
That’s where Nizialek comes in. He averaged 44.8 yards on 34 punts last year, although if he punted in a Georgia game he’d be going up against a much different rush than he did in the Ivy League. Game experience is a plus, however.
Will Cowart, a sophomore last year, still could help too. And stay tuned to see if any more new faces crop up between now and this summer.