Georgia Football: 3 Ways Mark Richt Can Solve Special Teams Problems in 2014
The argument can be made that the reason the Georgia Bulldogs did not reach the SEC title game last year or win the SEC the previous two seasons is the play of the special teams.
According to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald, the Bulldogs had two punts blocked for touchdowns, a kickoff returned for a touchdown and numerous snaps on punts.
The Bulldogs were also ranked next to last in the nation in punt-return average (2.92 yards).
So head coach Mark Richt decided to split special teams duties between inside linebackers coach Mike Ekeler and tight ends coach John Lilly. That’s a good start for the Bulldogs, but will it be enough?
Here’s three other ways Richt can finally solve the special teams problems.
Find a Return Specialist
One thing that could really help the special teams is finding an impact player on kickoff and punt return.
Not only did the Bulldogs rank near the bottom of the country in punt-return yards, but they also weren’t that great in the kickoff-return department, as they averaged only 18 yards per return, which put them last in the conference.
The leading candidate for both return spots should be J.J. Green. The rising sophomore had only seven kick returns and no punt returns last season, but he did have the team’s longest kick return of the year (48 yards) and is one of the most explosive players on the roster.
Sheldon Dawson is another candidate. He also had seven kick returns as well as one punt return. Dawson does not have the same explosion as Green, but he is just as reliable and will not make mistakes.
Make Sure Long Snapper Situation Is Settled
This may not seem like a big deal, but in the Bulldogs' case, it is.
They need to get the long snapper position back in check. Nathan Theus had trouble getting his snaps down at the start of the season, which led to Trent Frix taking over.
Now that both players are back, it will be interesting to see if Frix can win the position or if Theus will hold on to it for another year.
Frix comes from a family of long snappers. Both his father and his brother were long snappers for the Bulldogs, so Frix will have the position sooner rather than later.
But if Theus can show his issues last season are behind him, he will have the position for at least one more year.
Find Consistency in the Punting Game
When it’s all said and done, Collin Barber will be the starting punter for the Bulldogs. But he was replaced late in the season by Adam Erickson after a rocky outing against Auburn.
Barber played in 10 games and averaged 44 yards per punt. That’s not bad because it put him in sixth place in the SEC. But he has to be more consistent and make more game-changing punts that will not only help the Bulldogs with field position but will also give the offense a chance to work with a short field.
Erickson had 13 punts and averaged 40 yards. He does not have the same leg as Barber, but he does provide leadership for special teams, so he will see action this upcoming season.
Can Lilly and Ekeler Get the Job Done?
Lilly and Ekeler know how to work with special teams because they have been doing it at other schools for many years.
The biggest thing for them is learning to work together despite one being focused on offense and the other on defense.
Both Lilly and Ekeler need to find out where they are strong and where they are weak. Also, they should evaluate each special teams unit and see if they can improve with another player or two.
Having two coordinators will help in a huge way because having just one coordinator is a lot of work. So doing that helps the Bulldogs save some money on finding a new coach, and it also shows the Bulldogs are dedicated to getting the special teams back on track.
Special teams will be one of the more talked about topics going into spring practice as well as fall camp.
With the addition of Lilly and Ekeler as special teams coordinators, Richt is finally trying to fix the issues that has plagued this team the last few years.
However, the players will still have to execute and take special teams seriously. It’s important for the Bulldogs to be efficient on offense and defense in order to have a successful season. But if they don’t set the tone with sound special teams play, it will be another disappointing year for the boys in Athens.