Is A.J. Green returning punts worth the risk?

Is the upside of A.J. Green returning punts worth the risk of injury to the offense's biggest weapon? (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Is the upside of A.J. Green returning punts worth the risk of injury to the offense's biggest weapon? (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

One thing G-Day never sheds much light on is the kicking game. As is the custom with most college programs, Georgia’s coaches decided not to have kickoffs in the spring intrasquad game, and while there were punts, they weren’t rushed or returned. The reason most teams forgo kickoff and punt returns in the spring games is chiefly because the risk of injury is greater on those plays.

Which is what popped into my mind when I saw David Hale’s update on the punt return situation over at Bulldogs Blog. John Lilly, who’s now special teams coordinator, said he spent the spring rotating various players as punt returner and isn’t even close to making a decision about who’ll get the job. The candidates appear to be Rantavious Wooten, Carlton Thomas, Brandon Boykin, Branden Smith and Bacarri Rambo.

Oh, and star receiver A.J. Green’s still a possibility at punt returner, it seems.

“He’s caught them his whole career here in practice,” Lilly said. “He has the ability. Everyone knows the kind of hands he’s got and he can judge the ball and do those kinds of things. … He’s certainly one of the guys that’s in the mix.”

Now, as I wrote a few weeks ago, I’m not a fan of using Green for punt returns because he’s just too valuable as the Dogs’ top wide receiver and that’s a pretty thin position this year. Yes, he’s a supremely talented player and can make a lot of people miss, so the chances are pretty good that Green could break a long return. But to me the risk of injury is too great — remember, they choose not to do punt returns in the spring game because of that very reason.

Lilly acknowledged those concerns to Hale. “Some people would like to see it, some people wouldn’t want to see it,” he said. But he sounds sorely tempted. “I think in any position on the field and in any area of the kicking game, if somebody can help you win a football game and has that ability, you would use him there,” Lilly said.

What do you think? Worth the gamble or not?

OTHER THOUGHTS ON G-DAY

While Todd Grantham didn’t show us much of his defensive playbook, one thing stood out about Georgia’s defense: The Dogs really look like they’re going to excel at pressuring quarterbacks. I have a feeling Justin Houston might wind up leading the conference in sacks. … Yes, as has been pointed out frequently, Zach Mettenberger racked up his impressive stats playing against the Dogs’ second-string defense. But keep in mind: He was playing behind an offensive line that was a mix of second- and third-stringers and still played smart in the pocket and completed big passes. Just sayin’. … If, God forbid, anything were to happen to Drew Butler, Georgia’s best option at punter probably would be placekicker Blair Walsh. He nailed some impressive punts during warm-ups last Saturday. … Carlton Thomas again had some impressive runs. And again fumbled. I still think his best use is not taking hand-offs but catching the ball out in the flat. … I don’t know how strictly the officials were calling the game — they didn’t blow the whistle on what should have been several sacks — but having just one penalty in the game was really encouraging. … Orson Charles had a really impressive one-handed catch where the ball was badly thrown behind him. He also later dropped a sure catch, but I think we can expect big things from him this season. … The alumni flag football game makes it well worth getting to Sanford Stadium a couple of hours early on G-Day. The Black team coached by my old Athens classmate Andy Johnson beat Larry Rakestraw’s Red team 34-27 in an entertaining match that featured, I think, only one running play all day. I lost track of how many touchdown catches LaBrone Mitchell made, and it was good to see Fred Gibson go up high to pull down a ball. Of course, he then high-stepped it into the end zone — good thing the new NCAA “taunting” rule wasn’t in effect!

107 comments Add your comment

Snotbubble

April 17th, 2010
11:15 am

HELL NO !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Small Johnson

April 17th, 2010
11:21 am

Small Johnson

April 17th, 2010
11:26 am

I agree Met I think had the better poise

Not saying things can change in a matter of months but Murry played with good players in front of a friendly crowd that didn’t count and he didn’t have to worry about being sacked and he looked like he never played before

Small Johnson

April 17th, 2010
11:27 am

Small Johnson

April 17th, 2010
11:27 am

Small Johnson

April 17th, 2010
11:28 am

Small Johnson

April 17th, 2010
11:28 am

Small Johnson

April 17th, 2010
11:28 am

Small Johnson

April 17th, 2010
11:29 am

Small Johnson

April 17th, 2010
11:30 am

10th

Hey 10 wins for me but you know what people Snot head up there was first so he wins the championship

So much for 10 win seasons if you don’t win a championship

Paula Deen's Cardiologist

April 17th, 2010
11:33 am

Absolutely NOT! He has enough trouble staying healthy playing WR.

CHARLOTTE DAWG

April 17th, 2010
11:34 am

NO! it is not worth the risk.

ncdawg1992

April 17th, 2010
11:43 am

I would use the Joe Gibbs model with Darrell Green. Generally no, but if the title was on the line late in the game then maybe. So maybe in a close GA-Fl game, a conference championship, or BCS bowl game. Otherwise, NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO.

jdog

April 17th, 2010
11:43 am

I agree with that Small Johnson. If, however, our defense returns after a leave of absence under willie,our shot will come.

Only a moron would play AJ as punt returner.

Small Johnson

April 17th, 2010
11:56 am

jdog

Hopefully our defense does return but Im not getting my hopes up too high this season for this reason:

Willie and the gang coached the defense so awfully, that bad habits will have to be broken such as:

(look at the recievers eyes, bend but not break, other players pick up the crossing routes instead of man to man, oh and my personal favorite arm tackling)

Grantham has his work cut out retraining this squad

hopefully by mid-season the sinking ship that was run aground by CAPTAIN NEMO MARTINEZ will be patched up and we will utilize the great talent that we have had and start showing it on the field

76-Dawg

April 17th, 2010
12:04 pm

Brandon Boykin would be my primary return man since he did a great job last year. Thomas fumbles too much but if he is bigger than last year maybe he want turn it over as much so i would give him a try .As for A.J.Green , I would use him any way that would help the team. This will probably be his last year at UGA and he is a tough young man. This is football not baseball,basketball, or any other college sport. You can’t worry about someone getting hurt because, it’s going to happen, that football. But if AJ is only average then the answer is hell no.

AltamahaDawg

April 17th, 2010
12:11 pm

Name the last guy injured returning a punt. Now name the list of guy injured at thier own positions. That’s not really the issue.

I just think he have players that would be better at it, and I’m not convinced that AJ’s abilities are all that well suited for it.

But I’m surprised that the Saban worshipers in here don’t insist on it. He seemed to think having his star WR field a few punts was a good idea.

UGAAlumnus

April 17th, 2010
12:12 pm

it’s not worth the risk. but those other guys need to learn how to catch the ball and secure it.

Staring Willie Martinez in "TEACHING FOOTBALL TO KIDS" a 50 minute instructional video on proper arm tackling

April 17th, 2010
12:29 pm

In my opinion

I think we did a great job last year

Put a player who will take a knee and play it safe, let your offense get you down the field

Dawg'em out!

April 17th, 2010
12:31 pm

aj has had some problems staying, bu if he’s gonna play on sunday. the kid will be wr, not returning punts IMO. so NO i would not risk it, put logan gray returning them or c.thomas.

Bill King is a .......

April 17th, 2010
12:42 pm

why the hell not??? Throughout history…..how many of our punt returners have gotten hurt returning punts??? Hell yeah its worth the gamble. Over the last two years….i would be willing to bet that 85% of our punt returns have been fair catches. Special teams do matter and can have a huge impact on the outcome of a game. We(uga) never have really paid much attention to our special teams so its kinda like we are handicapping ourselves when we send Logan in to fair catch. Everybody in the stadium knows what we are going to do. So, unless we are going to go for the block punts everytime……we need somebody capable of catching first and then running. And if AJ or Tavaress or any of our fleet-footed recievers can do that…..put them in there.

Staring Willie Martinez in "TEACHING FOOTBALL TO KIDS" a 50 minute instructional video on proper arm tackling

April 17th, 2010
12:43 pm

Bill

You should be ashamed of yourself for calling me out on the carpet on your show.

You need to order my video, in it you will see the fundamentals that I teach were not taken to the field

If you want to blame me for the defense you should start with what I said for many years “ITS THE PLAYERS NOT EXECUTING”

Cmon Bill

P.S you can get my video half off now

Small Johnson

April 17th, 2010
12:50 pm

Bill King is a………

Haven’t you learned that conservatism wins championships

I mean look, when we fair catch punts, go to Jacksonville with your tail already tucked between your legs before the game starts.

When you play 5th year QB’s without giving your freshmen QB’s some experience for next season

When you sit players out like Moreno for an extra year of sideline cheering

And you come out with new uniforms to win games instead of new play schemes

Don’t you realize that conservative football wins

Give me a break people

Tide Rising

April 17th, 2010
12:51 pm

Altamaha dawg,

Why not? We had Julio Jones returning both punts and kickoffs. We did it on punts mainly because our main returner Arenas was hurt a couple of games and we did it on kickoffs because we figured that the ball is going to either Arenas or Julio and one way or another one of our top skills position players with good hands is going to receive the ball. Makes perfect sense and as for injury I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a punt or kickoff returner get hurt returning kicks. I’m sure it happens. I just can’t remember the last time I saw it happen and besides you can just as easily get hurt playing your regular position. If its AJ’s last year since he will likely go pro you should probably get the ball in his hands as much as possible.

Bill King is a .......

April 17th, 2010
12:52 pm

UGAALUMNUS…..are you secretly on this blog as Jon Fabris?? I believe i have you figured out. I believe Arenas was Bama’s best player and he returned punts. We have got to quit playing conservative and go for it. Meyer said last year in an interview that when they watch films on opposing teams…..the first thing they look at is how the other team plays on special teams. If they are fundamentally sound and are good then they know they better be ready to play. If they look like UGA’s…..well they know how the game will turn out…..ex. the last two years in the GA/FL game. We need to be putting our best players on the field on offense, defense, and special teams. Worth the risk??? Absolutely. These kids need to remember that they are here to help the Univ of Georgia to win championships. And if they are not willing to put it on the line( ex Moreno) pull them and put someone in who will. Then let the pro scouts analyze them sitting on the bench.

Bill King is a .......

April 17th, 2010
12:55 pm

Tide Rising……thank you!!! My point exactly. And thats why Bama wins championships and we always talk about ‘wait til next year.’ I envy your team. Bama puts their best players on the field….we sit ours on the bench.(ex….Logan and Cox last year. Terishinski and Stafford in 2007)

shane#1

April 17th, 2010
1:11 pm

UGA has three QBs battling for the starting job. Green is THE go to WR. I would prefer he spend his time getting familiar with the QBs, and they with him, rather than taking up practice time with the special teams. Whoever starts at QB I want him and AJ to know each other so well that pass routes and throws are second nature to them. I was unable to watch the spring game, thanks Media Com, but watched some video on Hale’s blog. I like to way Mett recognizes pressure and steps up in the pocket, but he needs to get rid of the ball quicker. When the green jersey comes off and SEC pass rushers are coming at him at full speed a slow delivery can get him creamed!

Small Johnson

April 17th, 2010
1:34 pm

Bill King is a…………..

Exactly, I for one thing am tired of hearing the wait until next year crap, Im tired of hearing about 10 win seasons, I’m tired the best players not being on the field, I’m tired of top 10 recruiting classes that continue to amount to nothing and I’m tired of losing to FL every year with supposidly top 10 recruits.

Oh and I’m tired of having to pay more and more to watch 10 win seasons with same results
(Wait until next year, lost to FL, Hope FL loses to play in the SEC championship)

chazzo

April 17th, 2010
1:38 pm

Don’t risk any receivers! But, wouldn’t be cool to slip him in their against UF.

AltamahaDawg

April 17th, 2010
1:39 pm

Rising tide, just to be clear, we are agreeing right? Didn’t I just say all that?

Staring Willie Martinez in "TEACHING FOOTBALL TO KIDS" a 50 minute instructional video on proper arm tackling

April 17th, 2010
1:44 pm

UGA should consider buying my instructional video, its half off and worth the investment for future success

mcdawgna

April 17th, 2010
2:04 pm

GO FOR IT!…..Many times this upcoming year AJ will be the best player on the field…….I want to see the ball in his hands as many times as possible……He did it in High school and obviously feels comfortable with it……you cant keep the ball out of his hands for fear of him getting hurt….if so, you’re not taking full advantage of the weapons in your arsenal…

Sanford Drive

April 17th, 2010
2:05 pm

If AJ is actually good at it, then maybe they should try it. Anything is better than Logan Gray fair calling it every. single. time.

What about Carlton Thomas?

dawg85

April 17th, 2010
2:06 pm

I have to agree with Tide Rising and Bill King is a … If AJ is your best punt returner let him do it. I too rarely remember punt returners getting hurt. It happens but is probably safer than having him run across the middle. watching AJ run after the catch I think he would be a dangerous punt returner. Having said that I think we have a lot of good options, which is a good problem to have.

small johnson=BuLLdawg

April 17th, 2010
2:07 pm

We all know you hate Mark Richt. Stick to the question doofus.

SOUTHGADAWG88

April 17th, 2010
2:15 pm

No.I don’t really want to see superstars on special teams.I remember losing Boss Bailey to an ACL on the kick off team and he was never the same player.

GoDOGS1

April 17th, 2010
2:28 pm

Where is the 750K pudding pouter? I guess the whiney little fella finally manned up and got himself a second job to go along with his Home Econ 101 class he teaches for 35k…..

Dave In Tampa

April 17th, 2010
3:41 pm

Personally, I think it’s too big a risk. All it takes is one cheap shot and it’s over. However, the same can be said about a pass over the middle. Still, not worth it.
The thought of him back there would scare the crap out of some teams.

Old Dawg

April 17th, 2010
3:54 pm

Tim Brown was as good a receiver as you’ll ever find in college football, and he returned kicks for Notre Dame and those returns were part of the reason he won the Heisman Trophy. I am always wary of injuries to every player and even more so for highly-talented players.

But the bottom line is to win games. If it takes AJ being a return guy to win games, so be it.

Neil Hamburger

April 17th, 2010
3:56 pm

I’d put Carlton Thomas or Rantavious Wooten back there returning punts. My first choice would be Thomas. You figure Thomas isn’t likely to get much PT at RB if Ealey and King can stay healthy. Plus, his skill set would seem to be a good fit for returning punts–he’s very quick, shifty and elusive.

MamaDawg

April 17th, 2010
4:13 pm

Hell to the NO!!
They should not risk losing Green’s fantastic abilities to possible injury. We need him…at Wide Receiver!!

Michael

April 17th, 2010
4:26 pm

Maybe it’s just me, but he doesn’t seem to fit the punt returner mold. The best ones are usually not 6-foot-4. Green could definitely make people miss, but he’s got to avoid getting pummeled first.

After watching G-Day, maybe one of the running backs not named King or Ealey could do it. The 3rd and 4th guys looked pretty good carrying the ball.

SOUTHGADAWG88

April 17th, 2010
4:27 pm

Also Green is not built in the manner you would see at put returner.They are usually 6 feet and under,quick and are shifty runners.Green is a pure WR… not a great athlete who can play the position.I

Dawg 39

April 17th, 2010
4:52 pm

First I have total confidence in the entire coaching staff & believe that they will have the best player available at every position on the field. If you are the best option you will play.
However, when returning punts, if the options are essentially equal, it would be foolish not to allow someone further down on the depth chart to be the man. If they are not equal, you again go with the best you have. Remember A.J. is nearly as valuable as a decoy who demands double coverage as he is as a WR. The Dawgs need him on the field. They do have several options to choose from.

redblack&blue

April 17th, 2010
4:58 pm

Why take the risk with such a talented receiver? UGA has some of the hardest hitting, fastest, big running backs in the SEC. Let em have the ball and cut em loose.

yeah whatever!

April 17th, 2010
5:13 pm

Fla needed USC to lose in 2006 and 2008

UGA needed Ohio State to lose in 2002.

THATS the ONLY difference.

Hendu

April 17th, 2010
5:15 pm

Sounds like some of CMR’s sh#t. Same guy who has been kicking off short on purpose and has made little more sense in the punt return game. Smith and Boykin have looked fine returning ko’s so it would be hard to imagine they couldn’t handle punt return duties. I have watche A. Ogletree play for awhile now and he definitely without a doubt can do it well. But CMR’s record has proved that he is more interested in personally looking cute and being different than he is in efficiency, which is really the key to special teams.

Dave In Tampa

April 17th, 2010
5:16 pm

Just a thought. What would you guys think about having Traveras King taking those punts? I think he would do well.

dawgjammin

April 17th, 2010
5:19 pm

evey blog you right is a comment on DAVID HALE’S blog….please come with some original thoughts….

.

April 17th, 2010
5:22 pm

dawgjammin – Try to write right, tard!