Editor’s note: DawgNation's post-spring positional analysis continues this week after focusing on the offense last week. Today we examine the special teams players:
Returning players/stats: K Marshall Morgan, So. (8-14 FG, 63-67 PAT, 87 points); P Collin Barber, So. (60 punts, 2,488 yards, 41.5 yards per punt), P Adam Erickson, Jr. (8-296, 37.0 ypp); KOR Malcolm Mitchell, Jr. (16 returns, 360 yards, 22.5 yards per return); KOR Todd Gurley, So. (7-243, 34.7 ypr, 1 TD); PR Mitchell (11-57, 5.2); PR Rhett McGowan, Sr. (9-75, 8.3); PR Damian Swann, Jr. (5-37, 7.4) S Nathan Theus, So.
Newcomers: Tramel Terry, Fr. (ESPN's No. 89 overall prospect of 2013. No. 9 athlete. Enrolled in January); Reggie Davis, Fr. (No. 45 wide receiver. Expected to enroll this summer); J.J. Green, Fr. (No. 58 CB. Enrolled in January); Rico Johnson, Fr. (No. 122 WR. Expected to enroll this summer)
Key storyline: Georgia improved its special teams play from atrocious in 2011 to mediocre in 2012. This season the Bulldogs hope to turn the kicking game into a weapon. The key will be developing greater consistency -- from the coverage teams and particularly from Morgan at kicker and from whoever returns kickoffs and punts. Aside from a 100-yard return by Gurley in the opener, Georgia’s return game was almost nonexistent in 2012.
Breakout candidate: Green could be a player to watch here. It’s far too early to predict whether Mark Richt’s coaching staff will hold an open competition for the return duties, but Green’s speed and quickness impressed the players and coaches enough during spring practice that Richt mentioned that he wants to give Green a shot as a return man in August.
Reviewing 2012: Barber and Morgan performed like freshmen, particularly early. Later in the fall, Barber improved his punt heights to the point that opponents were getting next to nothing on return yards. Morgan, however, experienced an adventurous season throughout. He started off with a series of hiccups on extra points and ended by hitting only two of five field-goal tries in the last six games. The punt returners also kept things interesting, with Mitchell and Swann making some questionable decisions that gave McGowan an opportunity to handle the job at times.
Projecting 2013: It will be interesting once the season begins to see whether the coaching staff gives a shot to anyone else as a kick/punt returner. Mitchell is dangerous with the ball in his hands, no doubt, but he has dealt with more than his share of injuries and it might be productive to explore other alternatives.
A player who won’t draw much attention unless something disastrous occurs is Theus. He’ll step in as the long snapper after four-year starter Ty Frix’s graduation following two seasons as Frix’s backup.
Finally, we expect the kickers to build off their freshman seasons and become more consistent players this season -- and that could be the most important factor here. The Bulldogs weren’t desperate for Morgan to be great last season, but the schedule strength increases this year. The Bulldogs will likely need him to use his powerful leg as more of a consistent weapon this fall.