Zamir White validating why Kirby Smart was playing UGA RB on special teams prior to second ACL injury
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Zamir White making an impact on special teams for Georgia football
In August of 2018, Georgia running back Zamir White tore his left ACL while working in punt coverage during a preseason practice. Many Georgia fans were furious that a player like White — who was already recovering from a right ACL injury he suffered as a high school senior — was involved on punt team. He was expected to be a potential difference-maker on the Georgia offense.
Smart was asked in a press conference if it were normal for White to be playing on special teams on the day the injury occurred. In the moment after that question was asked, Smart was more apocalyptic than any Georgia fan could’ve been.
“You guys are amazing,” Smart said. “Sony Michel was a first-round pick last year, he covered a punt. Derrick Henry covered every punt at Alabama, I mean, why would you ask that?”
Flash forward two years, and White is showing why Smart plays him, and so many other talented Georgia contributors, on special teams.
In the opening game of the season, White blocked a punt to help set Georgia up with great field position. He’s also made a couple of other plays that have caught Smart’s eye.
“I like his special teams play. He’s had two really critical blocks that’s sprung our kickoff return unit,” Smart said.
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Fellow Georgia running back Kenny McIntosh has three kickoff returns on the season, with the shortest return going for 38 yards. Players like White are a reason Georgia special teams have been so strong to start the 2020 season.
And White has no qualms with adding in special teams duties to go along with being Georgia’s leading ball-carrier.
“I just love kick return, punt return. It’s just fun for me,” Smart said. “I just like being out there playing.”
That line of thinking certainly makes sense when you consider White went nearly two years without playing because of his knee injuries. Now healthy, he’s beginning to show more and more of those traits that made him the top-rated running back in the 2018 recruiting class.
After rushing for 71 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas, White added 88 yards and two more touchdowns against No. 7 Auburn. Most of White’s work was done in the first half where 17 of his 19 carries came and he accounted for 76 of Georgia’s 130 first-half rushing yards. In that opening half, White and the Bulldogs built a 24-0 lead that allowed them to coast to 27-6 victory.
White also picked up a key third-down conversion through the air as well, showing he’s able to contribute to the offense beyond just powering through defenders on offense.
“He has done a good job picking up pressures, caught the ball out of the backfield. His yards after contact was much better this game than last,” Smart said. “His leadership is starting to take form, and he’s starting to get more comfortable in that role.”
You can see another example of White taking on a greater leadership role when he explains why it’s important for him to contribute on special teams.
“I just like to help the team out, any way possible,” White said. “Coach wants me to do something, sure I’m ready. And I love to do it.”
White will continue to be a significant part of the offense, regardless of what happens at the quarterback position going forward for the Georgia offense. With games against Tennessee and Alabama in the next two weeks, the Bulldogs will look to turn to the running game to help the passing game, as was the case against Auburn.
Add in that rain figures to be in the forecast for Saturday’s game and it makes sense why Smart is emphasizing the line of scrimmage when previewing this week’s game against the Volunteers.
“When you look at a defensive line and an offensive line, I really believe that’s where the game starts,” Smart said. “If you can run the ball, it makes the game easier. And when you can’t run the ball, it makes the game difficult.”
Having a player like White at running back — who admitted he’s more poised and comfortable this year than he was a season ago — definitely helps the Georgia ground game, much like employing him on special teams does the same.
It’s understandable why so many Georgia fans were upset with the fact that White got hurt on special teams, given what he’s capable of as a running back. But White has also shown why Smart put him on special teams in the first place, and will continue to do so for the No. 3 team in the country.
Zamir White speaks on the importance of playing special teams
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