Thoughts on keeping defensive Dogs hungry and A.J. Green returning punts

Nick Williams likes the open competiton for playing time on defense. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Nick Williams likes the open competiton for playing time on defense. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

One of the side benefits of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham installing a new defense at Georgia may be that the players all know that no one is assured of a starting position — unlike last year, when some spots were locked up early by upperclassmen.

Nick Williams, who’s battling for playing time at one of the safety positions, talked about the benefits of the competition with The Macon Telegraph. “It’s great because it brings a lot out of players, knowing that you might not be the starter,” Williams said. “Nobody has a starting job. You can get kind of content when you know you’re going to be playing as a starter on Saturday nights, so you don’t practice as hard.

The italics for emphasis are mine. I think we all remember too well what it was like last year when some players held on to their starting spots despite the fact that they were being outplayed by their backups.

Williams says he thinks the uncertainty this spring is helping the team. “I like how the coaches are doing it. They haven’t set on who is starting at each position. They have swapped everybody out, keep everybody wondering really. No one knows, so you have to come out every day with your best.”

Let’s hope they keep that mindset even after the season starts. Besides poor fundamentals like tackling, complacency seemed to be a big problem for Georgia’s defense the past couple of seasons.

THANKS, A.J., BUT NO THANKS

Georgia doesn't need to risk another injury to A.J. Green by using him on punt returns. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Georgia doesn't need to risk another injury to A.J. Green by using him on punt returns. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

I had not previously commented on A.J. Green’s stated desire to be considered as the Dogs’ punt returner, and Green joining a bunch of other players in trying out at that spot last week in practice, because I think the likelihood of that turning into a regular gig for him is about the same as it was for Knowshon Moreno a couple of seasons ago. But a couple of readers asked what I thought, so here goes:

I think it’s commendable that Green, the unchallenged star of the team, wants to go the extra mile, but I’m hoping the coaches decide that it’s not such a good idea. He’s just too valuable as the Dogs’ top wide receiver.

As David Hale pointed out, “Georgia has just six scholarship WRs, two wore green jerseys this week in practice, one is coming off missing the season following shoulder surgery, and A.J. … if he has a weakness, it’s that he’s been banged up most of his career.”

And The Grit Tree wisely noted that “unlike Knowshon in 2008, Green’s body is not built to take those added hits in the return game. I don’t think A.J. Is injury prone as some have speculated, but I’m not wanting to take any added chances either. I remember Fred Gibson got hurt returning a kickoff in 2003 and missed several games, notably the September game against LSU. … Green is far and away a more important player than Gibson was. There are a lot of other athletes who could be a better option other than Green or Logan Gray. If you want to utilize A.J.’s skill in the open field, throw him some more screen passes.”

Yes, the chances are pretty good that Green could break a long return. But he already has a big enough target on his back and we need him too much at receiver. Looking at the other guys who practiced returning simulated punts last week — Carlton Thomas, Washaun Ealey, Bacarri Rambo, Brandon Boykin, Branden Smith and Rantavious Wooten — it’s obvious there is a pretty impressive talent pool from which to pick a returner. No need to risk A.J. in that role.

64 comments Add your comment

DawgInMemphis

March 25th, 2010
11:14 am

Does Carlton Thomas have what it takes to be like Mikey Henderson ? If so, I say let him roll with it….sometimes those short return men can be so dangerous because the defense can’t spot them as easily, and won’t be able to close potential open lanes before the diminutive return man has already blown through and its too late.

Anybody have thoughts on this ?

Marc Wabich

March 25th, 2010
11:15 am

Bad idea – keep AJ on defense. But hell, what do I know. After St. Paddy’s day became St. Paddy’s MONTH, I haven’t had much time to do anything but recover. But that is, until Friday at Kramer’s!!

Bo

March 25th, 2010
11:16 am

I think Boykin and Smith looked pretty good returning kicks last year (when the ball wasn’t on the ground). Maybe this will be a good spot to get Carlton Thomas on the field.

AceDawg

March 25th, 2010
11:19 am

In light of the talent pool competing against Green, I AGREE that he should not return kicks if he cannot separate his skills from them. However, if he clearly shows that he is GREAT at returns and better than those guys, it would be foolish to not use him. Let’s give some props to the Tim Browns, Rocket Ismails, and even the Dez Bryants out there who make a name for themselves not just receiving but in special teams. Punt/kick returns are just about the BEST place for a playmaker to be a star. No need to run an offense if you can just force teams to punt and take it to the house or at least cause them to kick it out of bounds for great field position.

UGA was able to win games without Green each of the last two years, and they should have enough depth to willingly risk him on special teams if he is a top notch performer. I do think Boykin, Smith, Thomas and the like should be some dangerous dudes though (Gray too), so it would take some sheer “awesomeness” from Green to look better than the rest.

Minnesota Dawg

March 25th, 2010
11:21 am

When you play football, you take a lot of chances! Put A.J. in there every once in a while and see what he could do. It would keep the opponents wondering what Georgia is going to do. Whatever we need to do for the best chance of winning, do it!

The D

March 25th, 2010
11:37 am

Percy Harvin returned for Florida, Dez Bryant for OKST, Deshaun Jackson did it, why in the heck would we not want our best player to touch the ball in one of the most vulnerable moments for the opposing team. It is football, and he knows how to protect himself. If you remember AJ got hurt going for poorly thrown passes, and a freak hit on the sideline. Get it right and put the best people in on every play, being paranoid of injury is never going to help the psyche of a team!! GO DAWGS

Sam

March 25th, 2010
11:37 am

Very interesting in that many folks have commented that UGA needs to put its best players on special teams (following the UF example) and yet balks when it looks like a reality.

Alabamadawg

March 25th, 2010
11:55 am

Carlton Thomas needs more playing time…put the ball in his hands more this year…whether its as a return man or somewhere else…

SOGADOG

March 25th, 2010
12:06 pm

Return men often take big hits and little guys like Carlton Thomas tend to have the ball knocked out. Fumbles on returns can be game killers and whoever returns the ball needs to have the upper body strength and size to take the hit and hang onto the ball.

The D

March 25th, 2010
12:09 pm

Sam, I would never balk at AJ returning punts. In fact, I would applaud the decision. There are way too many game changing moments that happen on Punt Returns for a 2nd string guy to maximize the opportunity on.

TuckDAWG

March 25th, 2010
12:30 pm

Am i the only one who remembers A.J. is very prone to fumble? Yes he is our best playmaker and biggest threat in the open field but he is apt to fumble and returning kicks apt to injury so lets just throw him the ball on screens when deep whatever just let somebody else return. Carlton and Branden are also fumble prone but lets teach them some ball security and whatch them fly GOOOOOOOOOOOOOO DAWGS !!!! GATA!!!!

termigator

March 25th, 2010
12:38 pm

SOGADOG, Thomas is actually built like Brandon James from Florida and he was the second leading punt returner in the conference.

G

March 25th, 2010
12:44 pm

Would like to see C Thomas be the return specialist. Return punts and kickoffs with Boykin. And to call Thomas fumble prone is a stretch I believe he only fumbled once maybe twice. Smith could help out if he proves he can make good decisions and hold onto the ball!

G

March 25th, 2010
12:45 pm

James was so good that nobody would punt to him last year.

JB

March 25th, 2010
1:05 pm

Amen to no more players getting playing time because ” It was their turn”. Bryan Evans comes to mind #3. He should have been the nickel guy at best. I’m looking at all the new athletic new DB’s we have and the NEW coaching they are getting, and you won’t believe how our pass rush will improve this year because of it.
Last year, the opposing QB would get rid of the ball real quick BECAUSE HIS WIDE RECEIVERS WERE WIDE OPEN !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tim Teblow

March 25th, 2010
1:22 pm

Carlton Thomas is awesome at returning punts and kicks on Xbox, so he should be pretty good in real life too :) j/k… but he needs to get on the field somewhere!

Gee, G...

March 25th, 2010
1:30 pm

…make up your mind “Would like to see C Thomas be the return specialist. Return punts and kickoffs with Boykin” – is it Thomas or Boykin you want to return punts? And if he fumbled ONLY once or twice, and he only had 3 – 4 chances, then YES, he is fumble prone!?!?!?!?!

Bremen Dawg

March 25th, 2010
1:33 pm

Maybe once AJ puts on a few more pounds. Boykin is really good at it and if Smith can hold on the ball he will be fine. No need to let AJ return any.

AceDawg

March 25th, 2010
1:36 pm

I wasn’t clear on why Thomas was cast away so quickly last year. At the time, everyone on UGA was a turnover, fumble waiting to happen. He looked nifty when they randomly gave him a screen pass in the middle of the year.

Hey UGA offensive coaching – don’t run plays like an XBox video game, but do give athletic guys enough of a shot to truly prove themselves. For example, it seemed CRAZY to not play Logan Gray more against at least Tennessee Tech – a point in the season where the team seemed lost and a game that UGA could have won with any combo of players on the UGA roster. The fans (and you as coaches) should have had a chance to see what the guy can do in front of 92,000 for more than a token series. Now in spring ball, he is still “inexperienced” and you still have to decide if he is a QB or something else.

Otto

March 25th, 2010
1:44 pm

Thomas needs to be used as UF uses their small shifty backs in space, short passes, put him the slot, in motion etc. I can also see him returning kicks.

AJ thanks but you are far to valuable to the team in your usual roll.

GATA

March 25th, 2010
2:25 pm

Enter your comments here

GATA

March 25th, 2010
2:26 pm

I dont understand why they havent settled on Brandon Boykin who reterned 2 or 3 kickoffs for touchdowns last year!!!!!!! He is the DAWGS RETURN SPECIALIST!!!

dawgjammin

March 25th, 2010
2:32 pm

why not some of these defensive backs that are having a hard time finding a role. most were very athletic 2 way players in highschool, either at the wr or dual threat qb position….Pugh or Commings or even try Wooten back there. Not AJ.

Ball Protection Guy

March 25th, 2010
2:38 pm

If you look at ball protection, since UGA had 40 unforced erros on offense last year (23 fumbles and 17 int’s), you’d have to say the list of candidates narrows to:

Boykin (thin at DB–too risky)
AJ or Wooten (thin at WR—too risky)

Ealey.

Ealey protects the ball, gets long runs every few touches, and we’re deep at RB.

Ealey’s the guy.

Merit-Based Starter Policy--Stop Entitlement

March 25th, 2010
2:44 pm

Grantham’s an advocate, UNLIKE Bobo the Bozo, of a MERIT-BASED policy for starting positions.

Grantham couldn’t give a nickle for your:
-height
-weight
-ranking coming out of high school
-age
-years in the program

That’s why his guys will work hard. They know he’s OBJECTIVE and FAIR in deciding who will start.

Not the case with Bobo the Bozo.

How to stay hungry?

March 25th, 2010
2:57 pm

If you need something outside of you, like comeptition, to keep you hungry, you don’t have it. The drive needs to come from inside, like Jordan, compete with yourself, keep getting better, that’s all you can control.

run the ball

March 25th, 2010
3:26 pm

The D and Sam make excellant points. However, our return teams were pretty good last year and will only be better with experience. B. Smith can outrun anybody on the field. Let him do it.

How2fish

March 25th, 2010
3:27 pm

I read a lot of the comments about this and see some merit from the pro and con side of the issue…I’ll think I’ll let the coaches earn their money and make the call.

Nick

March 25th, 2010
3:34 pm

Why does everybody think you’re going to get hurt returning punts? Seriously, how many injuries are at that position vs. others? Including WR? Give me some figures. I know some of you out there have nothing better to do and live for this kind of stuff.

Grandad

March 25th, 2010
3:37 pm

Carlton Thomas = ‘Specialist’!

Will

March 25th, 2010
3:48 pm

Carlton Thomas all day, and if hear another coach mention a backup qb on the kickoff or punt team again I am going to puke. It’s time to put our best damn players on the field!

Ball Protection Guy

March 25th, 2010
3:49 pm

Carlton and Branden can’t protect the ball. And we are think at DB, so Branden’s out.

Carlton Thomas--Practice Only Star

March 25th, 2010
3:51 pm

Thomas is a practice only star. He didn’t get it done against real bullets, and couldn’t protect the ball.

Ball Protection Guy

March 25th, 2010
3:54 pm

Football is like a business in some way. You have to have an excellent RISK MANAGEMENT system.

So what if you lead the SEC in TD passes and yards, yet have 23 fumbles and 17 int’s?

UGA HAS to focus on Ball Protection in 2010, and stop letting Georgia beat Georgia.

14 TO’s against Florida alone, last 4 times we played them.

RxDawg

March 25th, 2010
3:54 pm

The people that say we should play our best people on special teams are right. That said, having a decent return man AJ vs having a great WR AJ is a no brainer.

Basicly, if AJ is head and shoulders better at returning punts than anyone else on the team than play him. If he’s not, let’s use a good athelete from a deeper position.

Ball Protection Guy

March 25th, 2010
3:55 pm

Thin at DB, and Branden fumbles WAY TOO MUCH (led the team in 2009) so Branden’s out. His DOWNSIDE is too high.

Dawggie

March 25th, 2010
4:01 pm

Wait a sec… Boykin was lights out last year in returning punts and ko’s. It’s not so much “don’t risk AJ” as it is “GET THE BALL IN BOYKINS HANDS!”

Doc Reem

March 25th, 2010
4:01 pm

Some of you guys need to really grow a pair!!! If AJ shows that he’s a dynamic Punt Returner then let him do it. We need to win NOW guys! Some of you have really bought into this whole conservative football CMR approach. Several comments have mentioned that numerous former college Recievers have excelled at their offensive responsibilities and then added another element by returning punts. It’s football people, and he is an offensive player after all. Injuries are a part of the game. AJ may have the ability to be explosive in this area and you guys say don’t use him? Come on! He’s not a QB like Logan Gray which I agreed with Bill 100% last week in saying Logans usage on Punt Returns is not a good idea even if he is only fair catching them. Besides what some of you are saying is that it’s ok to let Brandon Boykin do it along with his other responsibilities but not AJ. Brandon is nearly just as important to the defense as AJ is to the offense and an injury to him would be nearly as devastaing. Think about it, at this point Boykin, Green, Charles, Boiling and Houston are the main players who have the best chance to be ALL SEC. So one could argue that Boykins added role as a punt returner is just as risky. However no all will because he’s not on offense. That’s why you can’t be scared to put the best players on the field.

WonderDawg

March 25th, 2010
4:03 pm

And Mark Richt didn’t notice the seniors didn’t practice hard, or that the defense didn’t know how to tackle? Jeez, Willie (and Bobo) set our program back for years. He better hope Grantham and co are miracle workers …

Chip

March 25th, 2010
4:05 pm

Ask anyone who Ga’s best player is. AJ Green is the answer. If he is injury prone and fumbles that’s not saying much about Ga’s best. The NFL knows better, he will be a top draft pick next year, period.
How did he injure the shoulder before? It wasn’t from a punt return.

No dawg fan wants a player to get hurt, especially our best. But unfortunatlly it can happen anytime.

We have a great opportunity this season with the schedule and TN and FL being down (I hope). We have got to play to win in our SEC games, so we had better utilize our best players as much as possible while we have them. Even 5-10 extra yards would benefit us in a tight game against teams like arkansas, auburn, and florida. Heck, use him on kickoff return too. Look at how Spiller helped Clemson.(Best player/ nfl caliber)

Use Smith or Boykin in the gravy games or the blowouts.
Keep trucking Gray out if you’re content with 10-2 and 2nd place in the east (after all its a good season as long as we beat GT, right? Then you can put the score as your signature!….I’d rather put “national champions” as mine)

I Love the Dawgs

March 25th, 2010
4:11 pm

Unfortunately – I don’t think any of this will matter because there is no way we are gonna compete in the East this year boys…

Chip

March 25th, 2010
4:27 pm

Sure we will

Maxx

March 25th, 2010
4:29 pm

Use Wooten, Boykin, B. Smith or C. Thomas on Punt returns

Chip

March 25th, 2010
4:31 pm

….Not gonna win the east? I hope our players don’t have that attitude.

GaDawg

March 25th, 2010
4:35 pm

shane#1
March 24th, 2010
5:43 pm – Dogs’ offense looks more versatile this year
That is what an effective running game is intended to do. Force the defense to load the box to stop the run. That opens up the passing game where your quarterback and great receivers have a chance to shine. When the defense has to back off to slow down the passing game, you go back to the running game. They call it “taking what the defense is giving you”, but you must BE ABLE to take it when you get it. Without an EFFECTIVE running game you cannot dictate what the defense has to do in order to stop you! When you can force the defense to play your game plan, you are controlling the game. When you control the game you win championships. That requires an EFFECTIVE running game!

old dawg

March 25th, 2010
4:37 pm

I love the Dawgs youre crazy or 10 years old . Or worse really a Tech Fan. Use Boykin on Kick off returns, Thomas on punt returns.

GaDawg

March 25th, 2010
7:15 pm

T O D D GRANTHAM
It’s Time Our “D” Dawgs G..A..T A!!……hey, did somebody plan this???
I sure hope it’s a sign of good things to come!!!

mgdawg

March 25th, 2010
8:17 pm

I would say boykin or smith, other then the fact that they have a good chance of being our starting cb’s and may be a bit tired after stopping the opposing offense. The one that sounds the best is carlton thomas, if he can produce, he’s the third string RB so if he gets injured it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. I don’t like washaun being back their either, I’d rather a non-starter have the job if one is availabe that can be effective.

Mike's Dog

March 25th, 2010
9:00 pm

UGA went 4-1 without Green last year, so I’d say he’s not that important, especially with strong running game and a great defense. Passing is NOT going to be the way to win the SEC. So let him field punts if he’s the best at it.

dawgjammin

March 25th, 2010
11:11 pm

boykin only returned kickoffs. prince miller returned punts last year…i say let one of the other db’s that will see border line playing time like sanders commings, jordan love or makiri pugh return. Or even Wooten.