Georgia’s Branden Smith longs to ‘take it to the house’

Georgia senior Branden Smith hopes to see a lot of green in front of his on kick returns this fall. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Georgia senior Branden Smith hopes to see a lot of green in front of him in the return game this fall. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

ATHENS — Branden Smith knows he’s going to be on the field a lot for Georgia this fall. He’s going to be the starting field cornerback and he’s likely to get an occasional snap on offense, as he has the past couple of seasons.

But there’s one time in particular Smith really wants to be in the game — on punt returns.

“I want it bad,” Smith said of winning the job as No. 1 return man. “A punt return or a kick return can make or break a game. You need a key player back there. I want to be back there.”

Smith started last season as the Bulldogs’ No. 1 punt returner but eventually lost the job to Brandon Boykin, who went on to win the Paul Hornung Award. With Boykin now in the NFL, Smith would seem the logical choice to handle it his senior season. But he’s not leaving it to chance.

“We’re still competing for the job right now,” Smith said Tuesday. “[Coaches haven’t] told me who’s going to be back there. Whoever’s back there is going to do good no matter what because all of us have looked good doing it. Whoever’s back there is going to make plays.”

Smith is competing with sophomores Malcolm Mitchell and Damian Swann and freshman Sheldon Dawson for the job. All four were dynamic kick returners in high school.

“We’re having fun,” Smith said. “Everybody can make plays. All of us are offensive and defensive players and, with the ball in our hands, we can do things.”

Smith had nine of the Bulldogs’ 26 returns for a 7.8-yard average a year ago. But his career average on 19 returns is 11.3 average. That would have ranked fifth in the SEC this past season

“Obviously Branden Smith is the most seasoned guy we have back there and he’s probably the most comfortable being back there,” said Bryan McClendon, who coaches punt returns.

Smith is also competing for the kickoff return job with Mitchell, Swann and Dawson and freshmen tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. More than anything else Smith hopes to “take one to the house.” He thought he had done that on a punt return last season but his 74-yard TD against Coastal Carolina was called back for a block in the back.

Smith certainly has the speed to take it the distance. He had a 61-yard TD run against South Carolina in 2009 and a 56-yarder against New Mexico State last year. Both those came on offensive runs, however.

Smith indicated he hasn’t gotten much work with the offense this preseason and couldn’t say whether he was in offensive coordinator Mike Bobo’s plans. But he seemed unconcerned about it.

“Right now I’m just letting everything flow,” he said. “I’m just focusing on defense right now.”

Sheldon Dawson turning heads

Sheldon Dawson is behind Smith right now at field corner and punt returner. But by all accounts his college career is headed down a similar path. Georgia coach Mark Richt this week lauded the freshman from Memphis for his athleticism and his ability to contribute both offensively and defensively.

“Sheldon has made a bunch of plays out there,” Richt said. “He’s already proved to me that physically he has the tools to play [cornerback]. He’s still learning and he’ll get better at what he does. But the bottom line is you have to have the physical ability to play that position and stick with the receivers and that type of thing and he has that… And he’s got a history of having the ability to play offense, too.”

Practice update

The Bulldogs had a short, non-padded practice — their 20th of 28 in the preseason. The practice was basically to prepare for Wednesday’s “practice game” scrimmage at Sanford Stadium.

“Today’s practice was fine,” Richt said. “We got accomplished what we meant to get accomplished, which was getting our scouts teams for Buffalo ready to play the ‘game’ tomorrow. We were in shorts and it was only 12 periods which wasn’t too physically taxing. It was mostly mental preparation for our getting ready for Buffalo and our scout teams getting ready to be Buffalo.”

Senior noseguard John Jenkins liked the change of pace after three weeks of intense intrasquad competition.

“We’re not worried about ourselves, we’re preparing for an opponent for once,” Jenkins said. “We’re not hitting each other. I’m pretty sure it’s the same way for Buffalo. They’re tired of hitting one another and they want to hit somebody else. I’m sure we’re both ready. It’s kind of nice to get to this point.”

This and that …

A day after expressing frustration over reports that tailback Keith Marshall had gotten injured during practice, Richt closed practices to media for the rest of this week. Designated periods will be re-opened on Monday… . There were three new names on the injury list on Tuesday, and none of them were Marshall: offensive lineman Mark Beard (knee sprain), wide receiver Chris Conley (shoulder bruise) and tight end Jay Rome (hamstring). Wide receiver Tavarres King remained on the list with a lowewr leg strain but is practicing. Center David Andrews was back after missing one day with illness. . . .  Tickets are still available for the Sept. 1 opener against Buffalo and the Florida Atlantic on Sept. 15. They can be purchases online at http://gado.gs/4a or by calling the UGA ticket office at 1-877-542-1231.

MORE ON GEORGIA FOOTBALL

77 comments Add your comment

I love this time of year

August 21st, 2012
9:29 pm

Can’t wait to see buffalo, Florida Atlantic n ga southern!

I dropped my fried twinkie

August 21st, 2012
9:33 pm

I long to take it the House with Selma Hayek but I have to get past the bodyguards and I think the same can be said for Branden Smith.
It ain’t easy to make a memorable score for sure. LOL

Tyson Clabo

August 21st, 2012
9:39 pm

I think Branden Smith should be the guy. He has great speed and can zip down the field in a hurry. Sheldon Dawson sounds like he’s gonna be a DGD and I wouldn’t mind seeing Gurley start next Saturday. (Feels good to be able to say next Saturday doesn’t it?) But I think Samuel will get the start and he should because he’s been through it all during his time in Athens and has the heart of a champion. Would love nothing more for him to leave UGA as a champion. GATA!!!

Lutzenkirchen

August 21st, 2012
9:44 pm

Dawgs are going to be tough to deal with this year…3rd year with Grantham and his 3-4 defense…upgraded S & C program with new emphasis on speed and MMA training…no energy vampires…depth at RB…depth on defense…great 3 year starter at QB…Jarvis Jones getting after it…manageable schedule…GOOOOO DAWGS!! This is our year!

Lutzenkirchen

August 21st, 2012
9:46 pm

Oh and to all the nerds AKA Tech fans, don’t come on here to start trouble and try to downgrade our team just because you’re bored over on your page. Good luck to Tech trying to beat UGA this season. In Athens, better talent than you guys, in you guys’ heads…etc. It’s going to be a MAJOR beatdown in Athens on the Tech nerds. 41-10! Go Dawgs!

I dropped my fried twinkie

August 21st, 2012
9:46 pm

How LONG until they make PUNT RETURNS illegal for SAFETY reasons too. College players could make an NFL roster just by returning Punts and kicks but with the new rules that could be a thing of the past too.

Lutzenkirchen

August 21st, 2012
9:48 pm

It was 31-17 last season and the game wasn’t even that close. I feel sorry for Tech. I really do. It’s just not fair to them. They just can’t recruit with UGA and it shows. We just overmatch them, overpower them, outcoach them, outrun them, outhit them, just plain outdo them. I hope UGA vs. GT is a night game this season because if it is…OMG, you guys are going to get it soo bad. You don’t even know.

Nancy Drew

August 21st, 2012
9:49 pm

Does that on the border ad that pops up with sound irritate the sh!& out of anyone else?

I dropped my fried twinkie

August 21st, 2012
9:49 pm

Lutzenkirchen………..would have been a BENCH WARMER if he went to UGa. Cam would be a Tight end and Lutzenkirchen would be a Door Stop at ButtSmear.

CHDawg

August 21st, 2012
9:52 pm

Smith can flat out fly. If he can get a little better at handling the ball and dodging bullets, he could be a legend on returns. All he needs is a sliver of daylight and he can tap the burners. Watching him over the last couple of years has been disappointing because he just hasn’t lit up the stadium like he can. One thing I have noticed is that he forces some returns that he should fair catch, and doesn’t return some balls he should. I think maybe he wants it too much. By putting him back there all the time, I think he gets used to it and the light comes on–realize there are only a handful of players in the whole SEC that can run with #1! Go Dawgs.

I dropped my fried twinkie

August 21st, 2012
9:52 pm

Nancy Drew go get a HARDy boy and play “7 in Heaven” until you are not irritated anymore. :)

Larry B

August 21st, 2012
9:53 pm

twinkie, you are a loser sir. Do you sit at home waiting for a new UGA blog to be posted so you can come on here and irritate everyone? Pathetic. Do you have anything worthwhile to contribute to this article? Or to society in general for that matter?

SKB

August 21st, 2012
10:08 pm

Can’t wait for the new season!

I-DOG

August 21st, 2012
10:18 pm

honestly, I’d like to see Branden Smith protect the football if he is going to return punts. I don’t doubt his desire or his speed, but I am concerned by his lack of fundamentals in this area his first couple of years.

Returning a punt can change a game, bringing the ball out from 4 yards deep on a kickoff (a la brandon Smith) and setting up the offense inside the 10 yard line or god forbid fumbling there OR making a mistake in fielding a punt can be as detrimental to the team as a big return can be electrifying.

I’d rather have John Jenkins returning punts with a four yard average on returns if he could be a no mistake guy in the return game. All that being said, I’m all for Smith winning the job if he is ALL ABOUT BALL SECURITY

William

August 21st, 2012
10:19 pm

I can’t wait to see some punt returns. Hopefully there will be a lot. Defense stopping the other team’s offense will get you punt returns. By the way, GA Tech is better than you think. I don’t think there will be a beatdown at all. But, that is a long way off, let’s get on Buffalo first. You have to win the first one to win them all.

Chris

August 21st, 2012
10:25 pm

I think everyone is forgetting the many dropped kick off returns / punt returns Smith has had. I wish we had a statistic showing how many of his returns were fumbled or mishandled. I know for a fact that it’s more than three. He had a huge turnover against Tech a couple of years ago that almost cost us the game. The kid has great speed and talent, but I just don’t trust his ability to field the ball, or make the right decision when he does field a punt, like letting the ball go inside the 10 yard line, or knowing when to take a fair catch and when not to. His decision making as a punt returner is suspect at best.

Pj

August 21st, 2012
10:32 pm

Malcolm Mitchell. Did y’all forget how much faster he was than everyone else on the field last season before he yanked his hammy? He’s also a receiver – he should take returns. Period.

UGA89

August 21st, 2012
10:46 pm

Pj…
I agree with you on Mitchelll but can we afford to put him back there?? He’s a HUGE part of our team both offensively and defensively. G-d forbid he gets hurt. We need him to stay healthy.

Dewayne

August 21st, 2012
11:13 pm

How about Justin Scott Wesley? He was a track star in HS and pretty fast too!!

slydog

August 21st, 2012
11:17 pm

Branden Smith might NEED to concentrate on playing cornerback. He hasn’t exactly been a ball-hawk or a shut down corner like he was billed as.

Brainiac (CMR/UGA Fan For Life)Math Tutor

August 21st, 2012
11:21 pm

@ William:

You said it Bro.

Nothing is harder to swallow than a large mouthful of crow so I won’t be yelling about how many points we will be dropping on GT.. GT has fielded a pretty good team every year with a couple of exceptions during our past 10 of 11 wins.

Just be a little more modest when heckling GT fans about how sad their team is and how great UGA is!!!!!!!!!!

Sh _ _ happens!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I dropped my fried twinkie

August 21st, 2012
11:22 pm

His girlfriend transferred to Georgia Tech from Georgia over the summer. He was put on scholarship at the start of the preseason. Tuesday, kicker David Scully’s run continued. He’ll be the starting kicker in the season opener against Virginia Tech Sept. 3, coach Paul Johnson said.

I dropped my fried twinkie

August 21st, 2012
11:23 pm

Brainiac (CMR/UGA Fan For Life)Math Tutor

August 21st, 2012
11:32 pm

@ Chris:

I agree!!!!!!!!!!!

Looking back UGA probably would have faired better if Smith had played OFFENSE. He does not make really good decisions and is not a punishing tackler but is very fast.

Brainiac (CMR/UGA Fan For Life)Math Tutor

August 21st, 2012
11:35 pm

@ Twinkie

Does GT play on Monday night???

Sounds like a tough opener!!!!!!!!!

Good lubk with that!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I dropped my fried twinkie

August 21st, 2012
11:55 pm

Yes Monday the holiday in Blacksburg. Lane will be rocking

Left Coast Dawg

August 22nd, 2012
12:24 am

Everyone wants to be a coach but most can’t even tell an X from an O.

ZinoDawg

August 22nd, 2012
5:46 am

Hey Nancy Drew – if you get an I Pad you don’t have to worry about those annoying pop ups!

Dawgs will be formidable this year. I can’t wait for that Mizzou game.

GATA!

LoyalDog

August 22nd, 2012
6:48 am

A s fan, when the opposng team punts, I personally would like to feel comfortable knowing that the ball will be caught. Brandon Smith does not relieve me of that anxiety when I am at the ballgame as a spectator. Give me someone who can protect the ball and give me a chance for a big return. Go with Allstate. You’re in good hands with Malcolm Mitchell.

RedandBlackDAWG

August 22nd, 2012
7:11 am

Mitchell might be the fastest guy back there, but the kid has got to rest a little in games. The plan for him at least initially to go both ways is enough for one athlete. We can’t afford for him to end up injured again, and miss games like he did next year. There are four other guys on the team, that can do the job, so give them a chance.

chilidawg

August 22nd, 2012
7:14 am

My money is on Mitchell. Whoever plays, let’s hope for a spark on special teams.

MA English 75

August 22nd, 2012
7:18 am

Why should punt returns be made illegal because of safety issues? How is that less safe than, for example, a quarterback sack?

Game Changer

August 22nd, 2012
7:27 am

Funny: using stats to support article and claims.

Most important UGA 2012 issue: can Murray beat a quality team and play winning football, DOUBTFUL

satxdawg

August 22nd, 2012
7:41 am

Umm saint.. brandon wasn’t the only person in the car know it all. More likely because it was his car he had to take the fall. Not to mention they were in bama cop probably spotted the dawg gear . Asked him if he played then charged him ..walking back to his patrol car muttering roll tide .

satxdawg

August 22nd, 2012
7:46 am

Actually @ game changer there was a write up on Murray and winning the big game . Think it was the macon telegraph..anyway they broke down his stats from all his ” big games ” he lost. Over the course of his career ..statistically Murray has done a damn good job with the exception on lstyr Sc game. Most of those games our defense gave up late td’s and our rb’s fumbling in the red zone ,missed fgs and big plays on special teams .

jeffrey d

August 22nd, 2012
7:50 am

What’s wrong with his shoes?

Paddy

August 22nd, 2012
7:56 am

St. Mark……get over it already. The games are about to start and that is what we, as fans, want to talk about.

Smith is the right guy for the job and he will do great at it!

dmr

August 22nd, 2012
8:05 am

I love Branden Smith. However, in all his times as a punt returner, he has never learned to place his heel on the 10 yard line. Rule of thumb: If the ball sails over your head beyond the 10 yard line, let it go. He has also had a great deal of trouble securing the ball and knowing when to fair catch it. Smith is a talented athlete, but I am not sure punt returner is somewhere he belongs. I do blame the fact that we do not do a good enough job of coaching special teams, and this progression is proof of that.

Newman

August 22nd, 2012
8:17 am

“The practice was basically to prepare for Wednesday’s “practice game” scrimmage at Sanford Stadium.” So now we have practices to get ready for practices? Really?

kingdaddy

August 22nd, 2012
8:53 am

Brendan will do a fine job this year. If he shows he can’t hold the ball , then we have options. Way to early to worry about it. We can and will adjust accordingly. I think CMR has a little more urgency to fixing problems this year. I’m not sold that special teams is fixed until I see it, but I do trust Mark Richt to do what’s right for UGA…

dawgfan

August 22nd, 2012
8:58 am

Yeah Bobo, why use Branden Smith on offense? He’s only one of the fastest guy’s in the league who has demonstrated an ability to carry the football with great success. He absolutely scorched a good South Carolina defense for a long touchdown in 2009 and then went MIA the rest of the season on offense. Why would we need him on offense when we can have Murray zipping the ball across field on 3rd and short? Yeah, that’s the ticket. Nothing can go wrong there. Its not like there are good defenses in this league who will eat us alive if we can’t run the ball. Noooo, of course not.

Bobo might be the worst offensive coordinator in the league. So much to work with but so little to show for it. No imagination. No innovation. Just the same crap year after year. Where am I wrong here?

shankit

August 22nd, 2012
9:09 am

Why not line both of them back there for returns
and let’s see a little razzle dazzle.

Gamechanger is clueless

August 22nd, 2012
9:16 am

Here he goes again, giving an opinion on something he know little to nothing about football.
Gamechanger when will John Jenkins be declared academically ineligible, and Georgia will have major sanctions for recruiting him? Has JHC left the team yet? You still think there’s no way a 6′9″ 350 lb player can compete in the SEC? According to you 1st team All American linebacker Jarvis Jones can’t tackle SEC running backs. Clueless idiot.

shankit

August 22nd, 2012
9:16 am

Clemson and I believe the Bears had “Refrigerator” Perry,
Why not UGA coming up with “Deep Freeze” Jenkins on
short yardage plays.

Don't let stats get in the way

August 22nd, 2012
9:33 am

The worst offensive coordinator ? In 2011 Georgia offense was 1st in SEC total yards, 3rd in SEC average yards per game , (without any consistency from the running backs.)4th in scoring per game. ( FG kicker that missed 14 kicks).Coaches don’t fumble , throw interceptions or drop passes. many times its not the play that is called but the execution.

claytondawg

August 22nd, 2012
10:08 am

Even though I’m excited for the season, I’m still not a Richt nor a Bobo fan. I’m not a hater, but certainly not enamored with either coach. If my mind can be changed, I’ll be glad to eat that crow on the plate, with or without salt and pepper.

flo-ri-duh

August 22nd, 2012
10:15 am

My wife has her high school reunion on the same day as the Missou game……. told her we would go at 5 p.m. but leave at 7:00 p.m. – can’t miss the game you know. My main concern with B. Smith is fumbling but I think he can handle the job. The blocking on punts and kick offs wasn’t that great last year and that will be the key.

dawgfan

August 22nd, 2012
10:22 am

Don’t let losses to every good team that we ever play get in the way. Stats are for losers. Whenever we play a good team those stats don’t seem to help us all that much. We just get our tails whipped up front and then Bobo lets the QB attempt 30 or 40 passes. It happens in big game after big game. That’s not winning football chief. I’m sorry.

“without any consistency from the running backs”

The offense is Mike Bobo’s responsibility. He’s the head honcho. The big cheese. The CEO. He needs to fix it. He has never demonstrated any serious commitment to developing a strong running game. It is difficult to have any consistency from the running backs when they are getting their brains beat in because the O-line isn’t blocking for them. We continue to have the same issues on the O-line year after year. Its like a broken record. I guess that’s the players’ fault eh?

“Coaches don’t fumble , throw interceptions or drop passes.”

Coaches call plays that put players in a position to fumble, throw interceptions or drop passes. QB stats have gone up under Mike Bobo. And I mean ALL QB stats, not just the good ones. Interceptions and untimely fumbles have gone through the roof. Maybe David Greene didn’t throw for 35 TD passes in one season but he also didn’t make the kind of boneheaded plays that are now common place in a Mike Bobo offense. Coincidence? When the entire offense is on the QBs shoulders you’re going to see more INTs and fumbles. Its just common sense.

You guys continue to make excuses for Mike Bobo and we will continue to go championship-less year after year. That’s your choice. Whatever floats your boat.

Thanks.

Roll Tide for Obama you can not spell OBama without Bama

August 22nd, 2012
10:28 am

I see the dogs winning only 7 to 9 games. Not that great as we have grown to expect. Sorry Doggies

GeoffDawg

August 22nd, 2012
10:35 am

Hopefully, your predictions are about as successful as your stimulus package OBama.