Improvement imperative for Tech special teams

The eighth and final installment in a series of position group breakdowns of the 2011 Georgia Tech football team:

Georgia Tech will need more special-teams plays like this one, from Fred Holton in the Georgia game. JOHNNY CRAWFORD/jcrawford@ajc.com

Georgia Tech will need more special-teams plays like this one, from Fred Holton in the Georgia game. JOHNNY CRAWFORD/jcrawford@ajc.com

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?

PAST POSITION BREAKDOWNS

July 7 – Offensive line

July 8 – Wide receivers

July 11 – Running backs

July 12 – Quarterbacks

July 13 – Defensive line

July 14 – Linebackers

July 15 – Secondary

Ken Sugiura, AJC

98 comments Add your comment

PerimeterCenterJacket

July 21st, 2011
9:51 am

This is one phase of our game that makes me nervous every time. Let’s hope CPJ’s influence can spark some improvement here!

GO JACKETS!

Jacket Lova

July 21st, 2011
9:53 am

first, and it’s awful! Looked dreadful at the Spring Game.

Jacket Lova

July 21st, 2011
9:53 am

GT Girl

July 21st, 2011
10:01 am

We need to pray!
and Go Jackets!

Jacket Man

July 21st, 2011
10:03 am

Expect to see a lot more regulars on special teams this coming season, so that should help. It will be interesting to see what kind of impact The change in “wedge” blocking will have on the kickoff game (coverage and return). I’m also looking forward to seeing what Tony Zenon will be able to bring to the table this Fall. Tony will (probably) be the fastest Tech player who will be seeing action next season (Snoddy will probably take a red shirt).

jwyant

July 21st, 2011
10:04 am

From the return side, I’m happy as long as we don’t fumble the ball and gain a few yards. Let the offense move the ball and control the clock. Punt coverage, however, has to improve. That was absolutely abysmal last year.

Noob

July 21st, 2011
10:07 am

CHEATERS!!!!!!!

juvenal

July 21st, 2011
10:14 am

maybe adderall would help some of these oc/adhd posters to stay focused on the topic…….could actually be worse, without Scott….

Ramblin Man

July 21st, 2011
10:16 am

Like many phases of the team it can’t get much worse. The punt return numbers are misleading though as many teams kicked away from Tarrant. I believe we will see improvement as thier are several good contenders to take the return slots. The kickers may be questionable but it should come together fine.

gt45

July 21st, 2011
10:28 am

Must have improvements here and in the red zone!

WAKE UP

July 21st, 2011
10:30 am

GT’s special teams need to be taken seriously, like Virginia Tech.

GTman

July 21st, 2011
10:31 am

Special teams will not get better until CPJ decides to put our best players on special teams. We are not good enough to allow 2nd and 3rd string players to play special teams.

WAKE UP

July 21st, 2011
10:32 am

While we are at it,
GT’s passing game also needs to be taken seriously.

Get back to World of Warcraft, nerd

July 21st, 2011
10:37 am

1452 more days on probation

Or 4 losses to UGA

Whichever you prefer.

GeorgePBurdell

July 21st, 2011
10:37 am

All I know is that McKayhan should never field a punt again… ever.

Xe Fast

July 21st, 2011
10:39 am

Tony Zenon will be the key return guy this Fall. He’s got amazing speed and balance.

Tony Zenon Rushing highlights:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CauzjEn7tKU&feature=fvsr

Big Macon DAWG

July 21st, 2011
10:42 am

This is a real problem. Your special teams are AWFUL.

Taco

July 21st, 2011
10:43 am

We suck on ALL special teams and it will not be better unless we find some players from the freshman class. I got a track suit today from my cousin, he says it is worth $312. Is that a bargain? I offered him $100,000 and my ring for it.

Kicking Game Worries

July 21st, 2011
10:44 am

I’m seriously worried about our field goal kicking. CPJ has a history at Tech of taking games down to the wire. If it’s left up to our kickers to put points on the board, we are in serious trouble. The Spring game kicking was embarrassing….

George Stein

July 21st, 2011
10:45 am

I never have looked to special teams as a way to win games but rather as a way to lose them. Last year, we did a pretty nice job of the latter. Hopefully we’ll make the necessary adjustments in terms of personnel and skill set such that they don’t lose any games for us this year.

Put Me In Coach

July 21st, 2011
10:46 am

CPJ should give David Sims a try at returning the ball. Kid is like a stubborn bowling pin that won’t go down!

PerimeterCenterJacket

July 21st, 2011
10:47 am

I’ll second the idea that the kicking in the Spring Game did nothing to inspire confidence. Still gonna be nervous until I see it on the field this season…

BUT, with a better D-line and LB’s along with depth at QB and RB’s, I feel like we’ll still be trending upward.

Go Jackets!

George Stein

July 21st, 2011
10:47 am

You won’t get much argument from me on that, Big Macon Dawg.

George Stein

July 21st, 2011
10:49 am

The spring game didn’t count, kicking game worries. Further, most games will be close. It’s just life in the big city.

PerimeterCenterJacket

July 21st, 2011
10:52 am

Aside from McKayhan’s bowl game SNAFU’s, I think we’re probably good as far as returners go. But I’m interested to see what CPJ’s planning help can do for blocking schemes. Maybe it makes all the difference? Or maybe it’s just an execution thing, and the schemes have been fine all along? Anyone more educated on kickoff and punt return schemes/planning? What should we expect?

ben

July 21st, 2011
10:53 am

No one on special teams is a BIG loss. We had to suffer through two awful seasons of Blair to get to last year’s decent season. Johnson seems to think his miracle offense can overcome bad defense and special teams. And it did in 2009.

jackette

July 21st, 2011
11:10 am

I agree with “put me in coach” David Sims is your man, and yes GT man a we cannot afford to play the 2nd and 3rd strings at this position..that was very apparent last season, please no more of it

Lack of depth is the issue

July 21st, 2011
11:12 am

Typically the special teams are filled with freshmen and sophmores that haven’t broken into the starting lineup yet. We don’t have enough top caliber athletes to fill the spots.

Ramblin Man

July 21st, 2011
11:13 am

I agree the blocking needs to be improved in the return game, but I am more concerned with the guys leaving thier lane and the poor tackling. I can’t stand to watch somebody try and do a weak arm tackle then fall to the ground and watch the guy fly down the field.

Ramblin Man

July 21st, 2011
11:15 am

Would not be surprised if some of the incoming LBs get to start on special teams.

wrecked

July 21st, 2011
11:18 am

Why did it take 4 years if Pj would or could make a difference?

GT Fan...

July 21st, 2011
11:19 am

Other special teams blunders to remember:

Vs Clemson – D gets 3 & out then roughs punter…Clemson scores 55-yd TD run next play.
Vs NCST – 0-0, late 1 st qtr. After the YJs missed wide open reciever on 3rd down from its own 20, NCST blocks GT punt and recovers for TD.
Vs Va Tech – 90-yd KO return for Hokies.

Yeah, I’d say ST needs lots of improvement in 2011.

Lot of reasons for YJ fans to be optimistic in 2011 if things improve. Poor ST, WR, Defense, and TOs. Add the lack of big plays on O, and Nesbit’s injury. Still managed to win 6 with all that?

Ramblin Man

July 21st, 2011
11:20 am

On a lighter note I thought everybody would like to see the new UGA being displayed by one of UGAs fine ladies.
http://news.yahoo.com/photos/2011-world-s-ugliest-dog-contest-slideshow/canines-compete-worlds-ugliest-dog-20110624-195122-009.html

PerimeterCenterJacket

July 21st, 2011
11:22 am

wrecked, Coach Johnson will begin helping with special teams this season. Prior to 2011 he has delegated the responsibility for Special Teams coaching to assistant coaches. After 2010’s horrific special teams performances he publicly said he’ll sit in on their meetings and “have a bigger hand in their planning.” So I was asking what difference people think that should make from last season to this season.

BigTimeTechFan

July 21st, 2011
11:24 am

Nice photo, Holton knocked that Bulldog player back 5 yards, that what we wanna see this year

BigTimeTechFan

July 21st, 2011
11:26 am

Ramblin Man – pretty bad when the world’s ugliest dog is cuter then the owner.

gtfanfrom1951

July 21st, 2011
11:27 am

Hire a coach from VT special teams!!!! NOW it would be worth the money plus two wins a year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ken Sugiura

July 21st, 2011
11:29 am

PerimeterCenter (and others) – I think getting the right people on the field will be a priority. Johnson said in the spring something to the effect that he wanted people on special teams who understood how important it was, which would seem to dovetail with the complacency issues that hindered the 2010 team.

gtfanfrom1951

July 21st, 2011
11:31 am

The NCAA did very little to LSU. Tech got the shaft for no good reason.

BigTimeTechFan

July 21st, 2011
11:32 am

Ken Sugiura -When does Tech start practice, will you have daily updates when they do?

1999 Tech Grad

July 21st, 2011
12:30 pm

I think we are really going to stink up the field this year.

It is nice that I get a free GT football ticket when I buy a hot dog and a coke.

My mother is making me move out of her basement though and I need some place to keep my blow up doll.

Any takers? She is outfitted in a Tech cheerleader’s outfit.

Thank goodness for self abuse or I would have no social life at all.

Ramblin Man

July 21st, 2011
12:59 pm

gtfanfrom1951,
That issue was already brought up, to do so GT will have to let a current coach go to get a special teams specialty coach. Now that may occur if GT does god awful again this year. I talked to a current player by chance last week and he confirmed the new feeling surrounding the team and swears he feels like he is at a totaly different field and GYM when the team works out compared to last year. We shall see.

Ken Sugiura

July 21st, 2011
1:02 pm

Aug. 3 is the first day of practice, and I believe the plan is to write daily reports.

Can't change the past

July 21st, 2011
1:10 pm

Actually Thank Goodness to you, 1999 Tech Grad!

Man, I tell ya, if it weren’t for such funny, clever, and insightful comments as yours I think most YJ fans would go insane or commit suicide. So please, keep posting your thoughts, they keep us going…really!

GT 1

July 21st, 2011
1:21 pm

Please dont let McKayhan near a punt!!!!!!!!! He couldn’t field 2 “fair-catches” against Air Force– after the first fumble, why was he out there for the 2nd?

Supersize that order, mutt

July 21st, 2011
1:27 pm

Hey, guys, I need your help (well from Tech guys, not from any mutts)….On a couple of the other blogs, I keep being slammed with the accusation that some Tech player caused a woman (or women) to be hospitalized. Any idea what that’s all about, or is it an outdated reference to the Reuben Houston case, which was dropped for lack of evidence, if I remember right.

Ramblin Man

July 21st, 2011
1:31 pm

Anybody know anything about Casey Perry out of NC. Vad lee’s former teammate and was at camp last weekend. Played offensive line last two season and moving to NT this season. Like 6′2″ 300 looks like a beast and Vad raves about him but I can’t find any footage. Does not show any offers and I was wondering if it’s a production or grade issue.

Ramblin Man

July 21st, 2011
1:33 pm

Supersize,
I have not heard of anything, but I think it would be Hall not Houston.

Supersize that order, mutt

July 21st, 2011
1:35 pm

Ramblin Man, I had forgotten about Hall, but that case was dropped also, wasn’t it? And I might be wrong about it being Houston; was it Houston or Tarrant who was charged with rape, which was then dropped?

Supersize that order, mutt

July 21st, 2011
1:36 pm

At any rate, it really galls me how the mutts can get away with exaggerations, distortions, innuendos, and downright lies, verging on slander, about Tech players. Yet when faced with FACTS, they ignore them completely. SHEESH