ATHENS – Georgia coaches have been evasive about who’ll return punts this season, usually listing a half dozen or so possibilities when asked. But A.J. Green thinks he knows.
And it’s not him.
Asked Friday night if he’s been returning many punts in practice, Green said: “A little bit. Not that much since Branden Smith came back. It’s probably going to be him, and I’ll be second-team. Hey, whatever. . . . I’d love to get back there.”
Smith, the sophomore speedster from Atlanta, rejoined the team Aug. 13 after leaving for eight days because of uncertainty about whether a placement-test score would prevent him from enrolling in fall-semester classes. Smith returned after being cleared academically.
Smith is looking good as a punt returner, Green said.
“He’s explosive, man,” Green said.
The punt-return job is open because of the graduation of Prince Miller, who handled the role last season.
For kickoff returns, Georgia has Brandon Boykin back. Boykin returned 38 kickoffs for 988 yards last season, including two for 100-yard touchdowns.
Smith didn’t return any punts last season, but he did return 16 kickoffs.
Georgia assistant coach Bryan McClendon said a decision hasn’t been made on who’ll return punts. Whoever gets the gig must be adept at ball security, said McClendon, who is in charge of the punt-return unit.
“We’ve still got a bunch of guys back there trying it out,” McClendon said. “Priority No. 1 is to make sure that Georgia’s offense takes the field [after the punt] regardless of any kind of big-play threat that we put out there.”
Coach Mark Richt’s suspension of Washaun Ealey for at least the opening game likely will mean an increased workload for Carlton Thomas, who will be the Bulldogs’ No. 2 tailback behind starter Caleb King against Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 4.
“I’m sorry it had to be like this,” said Thomas, referring to Ealey’s arrest and suspension. But Thomas said he welcomes “more opportunities, more of a chance to showcase what I can do and put a good light on what I can bring to the team.”
Said Richt: “I told . . . Carlton Thomas, ‘You’re going to get your opportunity. You’ll probably get more of an opportunity than you would have got. I said, ‘Wrap up the ball and pass-protect. That’s been a little bit of your nemesis. So prove you can pass-pro; prove you can hold on to the ball.”
Richt also said he told Fred Munzenmaier to “get greased up, get ready, get ready to run the ball and pass-protect and secure the ball because you’re probably going to get your chance too” at tailback.
Thomas, by the way, said Ealey apologized to his fellow running backs for getting arrested.
Friday brought the Bulldogs bad news on the legal front — the arrest of Ealey — but good news on the medical front.
“A lot of good news,” Richt said.
Inside linebacker Akeem Dent, who had been sidelined since undergoing toe surgery last month, participated fully in practice. “I’m sure he’ll be ready to play by the [opening] game if he doesn’t have a setback,” Richt said.
Also, two starting offensive linemen, center Ben Jones and left guard Cordy Glenn, returned to practice after being sidelined by minor knee surgery and mononucleosis, respectively.
Defensive end Demarcus Dobbs, sidelined all week with a sprained ankle, didn’t practice Friday, but Richt said he’s “very hopeful” Dobbs will practice Monday. “We think it’s pretty certain he’ll play [in the opener],” Richt said.
Two injured receivers, Rantavious Wooten (sprained knee) and Logan Gray (sprained ankle), remained sidelined. Richt said Wooten is “very close” to returning and Gray “a little further behind.” Richt doesn’t rule either out for the opener.
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