The eighth and final installment in a series of position group breakdowns of the 2011 Georgia Tech football team:
Projected starters: K Justin Moore (So., 5-10, 160), P Sean Poole (So., 6-1, 161), LS Tyler Morgan (6-3, 205).
Others to watch: David Scully will be Moore’s main competition, likewise Chandler Anderson at punter. Both returner spots look wide open. At punt returner, Jemea Thomas, Roddy Jones and Tony Zenon are possibilities. Last season, B.J. Bostic was the primary kickoff returner, averaging 20.5 yards per return. Embry Peeples, Orwin Smith and Daniel McKayhan also had opportunities. Incoming freshmen Chris Milton and Broderick Snoddy may also get looks. Sean Tobin is an incoming freshman long snapper to whom coach Paul Johnson gave a scholarship.
Key losses: Scott Blair, who handled field goals for the past three seasons and kickoffs for the past four, has graduated, one of the most significant losses off the roster. He made 29 of 37 field-goal tries in his last two seasons while helping Tech rank 10th in the country in kickoff return yards allowed last season. Jerrard Tarrant took punt returns for the past two seasons, averaging 6.6 yards per return in 2010.
Key fact: Georgia Tech ranked 97th (out of 120 teams) in kickoff and punt returns last season. The Yellow Jackets were also 98th in punt return yardage allowed and 114th in net punting. On top of finding a replacement for their kicker of the past three years, they also have to repair other units that were fairly miserable. It’s a big task for a team that doesn’t figure to have much margin on either offense or defense.
Key fact II: Johnson will be more involved in coaching special teams, including helping with the schemes and sitting in on more meetings. In the past, he had delegated the responsibility to assistants responsible for the different return and cover teams. The shortcomings of the return teams go beyond the actual returners. Plenty of time in fall practice will be spent finding the best players to play on those units.
Key question: Can special teams improve enough at least to the point that they aren’t a liability? While hardly the deciding factors, special teams breakdowns played a role in Tech’s final two losses of the season, to Georgia and Air Force. The Jackets will need both big plays and consistency wherever they can find them. Better special teams play could make a big difference.
Outlook: Questionable. It may prove that Moore is a dependable kicker and that the return teams improve considerably, but it’s nowhere near a given. In Johnson’s three years at Tech, only once has a kick or punt return team ranked higher than 64th nationally in return yardage. Poole, who did fine after winning the job from Anderson, is coming back from a knee injury.
Your turn: What do you think?
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Ken Sugiura, AJC