ATHENS – Georgia has two freshman kicking specialists this year. One of them appears to have put himself in good shape to punt. Another still has to beat a walk-on to be the place-kicker.
The Bulldogs held their first special teams practice on Tuesday, at Sanford Stadium. Afterwards, head coach Mark Richt had good things to say about punter Collin Barber.
“I thought Collin had some balls with some outstanding hang time," Richt said. "I think he understands that part of it. I think it’s kind of a natural for him. He gets the ball up good. I think his operation time was pretty good.”
Meantime, place-kicker Marshall Morgan hit about 75 percent of his attempts during the drill, about the same as walk-on senior Jamie Lindley.
“I thought that our extra point/field goals were not what they need to be yet,” Richt said. “You know when they hit it really good it looks great. But there’s a little inconsistency there. Not as deadly accurate as you want. But a lot of it is just getting used to going full-speed with the live rushers and new holder, and being in Sanford Stadium and everybody watching too I’m sure had a lot to do with it.”
Georgia needs to replace both of its specialists, with kicker Blair Walsh and punter Drew Butler having graduated and now in NFL training camps.
It recruited Morgan and Barber with the idea of replacing each man. Lindley, who is from Savannah, has been in the program since 2008, when he appeared in the only two games of his career. He kicked off twice, including an on-side kick against Alabama that Georgia recovered.
“I think Lindley’s very capable of kicking off or being an extra point-kickoff guy. I think Marshall Morgan is as well,” Richt said. “I think punting-wise Collin certainly and Adam Erickson would be the next guy. I think all four of those guys can do it.”
Meanwhile, the graduation of Brandon Boykin means Georgia is working on new punt and kick return men. Richt named five players in the mix to return punts: defensive backs Malcolm Mitchell, Branden Smith, Bacarri Rambo, Damian Swann and receiver Rhett McGowan. There are four in the mix to return kicks: Smith, receiver Justin Scott-Wesley and tailbacks Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley.
“It’s just a competition right now, punt return and kick return,” Smith said. “There’s no set position. Everybody’s getting an opportunity.”
Richt also reiterated that veterans and starters are expected to contribute on special teams.
“In the past we’d say: If your heart’s not in it, don’t get on the team,” Richt said. “You want guys whose heart’s in it. But this year, we’re saying: You change your heart. If you don’t want to be on the special team, you change your heart.”
One example: Star linebacker Jarvis Jones is working on the punt unit.
“A lot of guys, especially older guys, want to get put in those positions,” Jones said. “Because they know to win the big games we need special teams.”