While UGA assistant defensive coach Warren Belin was heard on the practice field earlier this week questioning the coaching his charges had received in recent years when it came to tackling, he was more coy when Marc Weiszer of The Athens Banner-Herald asked him what his philosophy will be on the kickoff coverage team that he will oversee.
“I can’t give that away right now,” Belin said.
Chances are pretty good, however, that what he really thought of saying if he watched film of last year’s kicks is, “Where did you guys learn to cover kicks the last five years??!!??”
Kickoffs have been crazy at UGA the past couple of years. And longtime readers know they’ve been a particular pet peeve of mine. (Not that I’m alone; former Georgia kickers Rex Robinson and Kevin Butler also have harped on this issue.) So here I go again …
The Dogs have one of the best kickers in the country in Blair Walsh. And yet Georgia was the worst team in the conference and nearly the worst in the nation (117th) in kickoff coverage.
Walsh certainly wasn’t the problem.
When he’s allowed to go for it, he has a great leg and led the SEC last season with 17 touchbacks. And yet much of the time Walsh was directed by former kickoff coordinator Jon Fabris to kick it high, short of the goal line and in the corner — the infamous directional kickoff.
Some of those kicks ended up awfully short, giving the returner a head start on great field position. Too often last year the Dogs’ opponents got the ball in the vicinity of their own 40-yard line or better.
Still, it wasn’t even the directional kicks themselves that were the main problem.
The problem was the coverage after the kick was caught. That’s where Belin is most likely to make a difference. As Weiszer points out, the school he came from, Vanderbilt, had only three touchbacks last season, and yet the Commodores ranked second in the SEC and 29th nationally in kickoff coverage. And that was with a talent pool that’s not nearly as deep as Georgia’s.
Bottom line, though, is that if you’ve got a guy who can kick a touchback pretty routinely, why would you not let him go for it the vast majority of the time? There are occasions when a directional kick is called for, depending on who’s back to receive the kick, the wind and so on. But generally a touchback is what you want.
Belin isn’t coming right out and saying it, but you suspect he might be thinking along those lines when he says of Walsh, “We’re going to take advantage of his strengths, but the reason I won’t say much is because it depends on what our opponents are going to give to us, the returns that they present to us.”
Hopefully that means going for more touchbacks. And more importantly, better coverage when the ball is returnable.
YES, HE HAS TWO BCS RINGS, BUT …
Chris Low of ESPN.com touches on probably the most salient point about the recent flap over Florida coach Urban Meyer going all bully-boy with a reporter who had quoted a Gator receiver making a comment that perhaps didn’t reflect well on Tim Tebow.
Says Low: “Meyer and the whole Florida offensive staff are probably a little sensitive about the way Tebow’s mechanics and delivery have been picked apart by NFL people. You’re talking about one of the best college football players of our era, and his delivery is having to be totally re-worked for a lot of teams to even consider drafting him as a quarterback. You think that impacts the Gators’ recruitment of a pro-style quarterback in future years? You think rival coaches are going to use that against the Gators? You think anything that remotely suggests that Tebow wasn’t properly developed at Florida causes Meyer to bristle? The answer to all three questions is yes.”
Meyer has been ultra successful at Florida. But his volatile and emotional nature, his health concerns and indecision on whether he was going to continue coaching, and the fact that his celebrated QB is seen as struggling to be NFL-ready have to give some recruits second thoughts.
Mark Richt might not have a BCS ring to flash at a recruit, but in addition to being a consistent winner, he’s stable, a gentleman and he produced a No. 1 NFL draft pick at quarterback.
You can bet recruits are being reminded of that.
I’ll be off Saturday for an out-of-state family wedding, but the Blawg will return on Tuesday.