ATLANTA — There are many adjectives Paul Johnson could use to describe the kicking competition he has witnessed thus far in Georgia Tech’s preseason camp, but to this point, only one has really come to mind: “Ragged.”
A Johnson favorite, the word has been used often by the head coach throughout his tenure whenever he wants to indicate his feelings about less-than-stellar performances from his players. On Sunday, after the Yellow Jackets partook in a kicking scrimmage that lacked the enthusiasm he wished to see, he used the term once again.
“It was ragged,” he said, before adding the next day that “neither one of those (players) has kicked as well as they’re capable of yet.”
The two players in question — senior Scott Blair and true freshman Justin Moore — entered preseason practices with credentials most place-kickers would envy.
Blair, the veteran, took a crash course in pressure kicking last season when he made each of his four attempts against Clemson in the Yellow Jackets’ ACC championship win last December. Three of the kicks were from beyond 40 yards.
The challenger, Moore, is coming off a strong high school career in which he went 11-for-17 on field goals and made 88-of-89 extra point opportunities. The former Marist School standout earned Atlanta Touchdown Club all-star team honors after hitting home a school-record 50-yard field goal and lofting 48 career touchbacks on kickoffs.
Despite such extensive resumes, kicking this August in the dense, humid Atlanta air has proved difficult for Blair and Moore.
“I think I’m going to enter it,” Johnson joked about the kicking competition. “All I know is that I look up, and they don’t go through.”
During Saturday’s scrimmage both kickers had opportunities to make long-range field goals, but both failed.
Blair was charged with making a 47-yard attempt that sailed wide right, while Moore was given a 52-yard try that went long enough but sputtered toward the same direction as Blair’s.
“Should’ve made it,” Moore said, cutting short a question about the try. “Honestly, we haven’t been doing as well as we should be, so the competition is definitely going to get a little bit better in these coming weeks.”
Noted for his kicking height and accuracy, the freshman was disappointed that he didn’t get deep enough into his stance to drill the ball through the uprights.
During Sunday’s special teams only practice, it was more of the same for the pair. While several of Blair’s late-workout kicks either glided through the goal posts or to the right of them, Moore’s were mostly launched like line drive missiles trying to scrape the blue wall of defenders positioned in front of him. At least two of them couldn’t, as they were blocked.
“I can’t put my finger on it right now,” Moore said. “Maybe just transitioning into college? It’s definitely different out here, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen. I’ve been to a bunch of camps, I’ve competed against a lot of guys, a lot of top kickers in the country. I can’t put my finger on it right now.
“I guess I just need to focus a little more.”
Although he is the incumbent as far as Georgia Tech’s kicking duties are concerned, Blair has been forced to sharpen his focus with Moore competing alongside him.
“He’s some great competition out there,” Blair said. “He’s helping me on field goals, both competitively, and if he sees something wrong, he’s helping me out. He’s been a great help in pushing for that kicking spot.”
While they are in competition, ultimately, the big goal is doing what it takes to make the team better, Moore said. That is why it troubles him to not only see his troubles, but to also witness Blair’s recent difficulties.
“It doesn’t help to see (Blair struggle),” Moore said. “If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. So the more pressure he puts on me, then I’d rather have that. Seeing him do poorly, too, I’m not looking to see that.
“I mean, we’re all a team out here and we want the best to play.”
A likewise gracious competitor, Blair perks up when talking about the upside and potential Moore and the Yellow Jackets’ other place-kicking options hold for the future.
“All the kickers bring a little something different to the table,” Blair said. “Some are better at kickoffs, some are more consistent on field goals and everyone pushes each other. You want to be the best at everything. So I guess next year and the years to come, they’ll always have some consistency at every one phase of kicking.”