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Post Covering coverage

Wednesday June 3, 2009

There’s not much to add to the discussion about Rex Robinson’s analysis of Georgia’s kickoff woes. He knows what he’s talking about, and he does a good job of laying out the rules changes that make touchbacks so infrequent. We know that, with one exception, SEC kickers couldn’t get a touchback even 15% of the time last year. So it’s correct to assume that you’re going to be covering your kicks more often than not.

Here’s where the Bulldogs ranked among the SEC in kickoff coverage over the past few seasons:

02: 4th
03: 6th – first year after Kirouac
04: 3rd (though the stats here seem incomplete)
05: 4th
06: 9th
07: 9th
08: 11th

If you listen to a lot of fans, the directional kick has been the scourge of Georgia football since Richt and Fabris took over in 2001. For the first several years, it was actually pretty effective at least in the coverage unit’s place among the SEC.

Obviously something’s been different since 2006, and as Robinson notes, the rule change from a 2-inch tee to a 1-inch tee went into effect that year. Does that explain the drop to the bottom half of the conference rankings? Possibly. It’s also possible that the kickers (Bailey, Coutu, Walsh) over that time haven’t been the best at kickoffs.

The staff is hedging towards the belief that maybe it *is* the kicker. They’ve used a valuable scholarship to add a third scholarship kicker solely for what he can bring to the table on kickoffs. Will he reverse the trend that’s headed downward since the shorter tee was introduced?

But is it all about the kicker or even the hated directional kicks? We talked about this during last season. Plenty of attention has been paid, thanks to Robinson’s post, to the actual kicking, but not much has been said about the makeup of the 10 guys heading downfield to get to the returner. If you want your difference between Georgia and the better coverage units, look at the field position where we first engaged the blockers.

If the kick coverage improves this year, I expect a good bit of the improvement will come from a larger and (hopefully) healthier pool of younger defensive players. It’s a point Richt made certain to emphasize during the Road Tour. If you look down the roster at the back seven positions on defense, the number of players unavailable last year due to injury or redshirting could almost make up a coverage team of their own. Robinson, Rambo, Dewberry, Pugh, Commings, and Banks are just a few who could give the unit a shot in the arm this year. Even true freshmen like Branden Smith could help, and I expect you’ll see them out there.

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