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Mark Bradley

At last, Richt restructures UGA’s special teams

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Here's how a team like Georgia loses to a team like Vandy. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

Here’s how a team like Georgia loses to a team like Vandy. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

In a staff restructuring announced Tuesday afternoon, Georgia coach Mark Richt didn’t designate a single assistant as special teams coordinator. He did, however, split the responsibilities in two.

Offensive special teams (meaning kickoff and punt returns and field goals and extra points) will be the province of tight ends coach John Lilly. Defensive special teams (meaning coverage and kick blocking) will fall to Mike Ekeler, just imported from Southern Cal to coach Georgia’s inside linebackers. This, I submit, is progress.

It’s not quite what I’d have done. I’ve never understand why, with all the lip service paid to the importance of special teams — they’re one-third of football; you can win and lose games faster there than anywhere else; blah blah blah — collegiate head coaches don’t do as NFL guys do and name a single special teams coordinator.

For a time, Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson bristled at the suggested notion, saying almost no college team had an ST coordinator. (Over that time, as you’ll recall, Tech and Georgia were running a heated race as to which could mess up more often in the kicking game.) Then, two years ago, Johnson broke down and hired David Walkosky as … er, special teams coordinator.

That isn’t to say the Jackets haven’t lost containment on a runback since. Their stats on returns weren’t anything special in 2013, but they did tie for fifth in the country in kicks blocked (with five) and for second in punts blocked (with three). By way of contrast, only one Tech kick got blocked. (Harrison Butker did miss a key 43-yard field goal in the second half against Georgia.)

But here’s a partial list of Georgia’s of special teams whiffs in 2013: Botched field goal in a three-point loss at Clemson; bad punt snap against South Carolina; a blocked punt for a touchdown and a kickoff return for a touchdown against North Texas; a blocked punt for a touchdown in an overtime victory at Tennessee, and three special teams mistakes in a four-point loss at Vanderbilt. By midseason Bulldogs fans were bemoaning those errors as much as they were injuries.

That Richt has chosen to pare the list of men responsible to two, as opposed to the previous five, can’t help but be an upgrade. Dividing the duties too many ways tends to mean that attention to detail is likewise divided. This doesn’t mean that Georgia will never muff another punt, but it does serve as further evidence that Georgia’s head coach isn’t unwilling to try things a different way. Good for him.

Further reading: Big shock – Auburn fans are mad at Bama signee.

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