I’m back from the holiday and my regular day off and see that the subject that occupied a group of us Dog fans sitting around talking football on Sunday afternoon is still drawing split opinions in the Bulldog Nation: Should Mark Richt use that last open coaching slot for another defensive coach (outside linebackers?) or to finally give Georgia a full-time special teams coach?
Before the news of Todd Grantham and the switch to a 3-4 defensive alignment, most of the chatter seemed to favor the idea that the Dogs badly need a coach dedicated to special teams. But now some are arguing that Grantham will need all the help he can get in the defensive rebuilding project.
Under the Dogs’ system up to now, various coaches split up special teams responsibility and much-maligned former defensive ends coach Jon Fabris was the overall “coordinator” and handled punt returns and kickoff coverage, the two areas of special teams play in which Georgia seemed most hapless this past season.
Of course, not all of the Dogs’ special teams were in need of fixing. Georgia has two of the nation’s best kickers in Blair Walsh and Drew Butler and a dangerous kickoff return game. And on occasion the Dogs’ special teams have looked great — the Independence Bowl being the most recent example. (Was the fact that Fabris was gone by then mere coincidence?)
The Georgia Sports Blog argues that the solution is to “put better athletes on special teams which UGA started doing mid-2009, and … spend more time on special teams in practice.”
I’m certainly in favor of that, particularly when it comes to covering kickoffs. Whether they were booted toward the end zone or those high, shorter directional kicks that Fabris embraced as a “challenge,” Georgia’s coverage often looked clueless and was hampered by too many walk-ons and not enough speed.
The Dawgs Online blog notes that while there have been some bright spots on special teams play, “there have been enough breakdowns over the past few years to suggest that a more cohesive approach to special teams could help. Fabris caught most of the criticism for special teams breakdowns, but all coaches had some responsibilities for some area of special teams. There is too much advantage in having the kickers and guys like [Brandon] Boykin to see it countered by an ad-hoc approach to kick coverage and returns.”
The argument in favor of hiring another defensive assistant, Dawgs Online says, is that “the Bulldogs will be implementing a new defensive alignment and scheme with new coaches. This transition will be especially challenging for the front seven — it’s not as simple as dropping a rush end into an outside linebacker spot. Richt should maximize the coaching resources available to ease that transition and get this new defense performing in time to show big improvement in 2010.”
Both of those bloggers come down on the side of hiring another defensive coach and continuing to split up the special teams coaching responsibilities. Or having Richt himself oversee the special teams, the way Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer and Florida’s Urban Meyer do. Special teams are, of course, a major element of Beamerball, and Meyer has gone to great lengths to make sure his special teams are truly “special,” making it an honor to be on the teams and giving them certain perks.
But while the idea that Richt ought to take ownership of special teams also sounds appealing, I just don’t see it happening. In his time at Georgia, Richt unfortunately has been more like his mentor, Bobby Bowden, than Beamer or Meyer when it comes to special teams. He’s never seemed to appreciate what an important part of the game that is and how many games can be won by dominating special teams play (the Independence Bowl being just one example).
So I come down on the side favoring the hiring of a special teams coach. I think this piecemeal approach plainly hasn’t worked well at Georgia. Remember after A.J. Green blocked a field goal attempt how we heard that there had been opposition from his regular position coach to using him on special teams? Dedicating a full-time coach to that aspect of the game would elevate it in the minds of Georgia’s players and other coaches and be a statement by Richt that the old way of handling special teams wasn’t good enough.
I think that’s needed more than an outside linebackers coach. What do you think? Share your views in the comments, vote in the poll or have it both ways.