Bulldogs taking special (teams) care

The frequent calls for Georgia to have a special teams coordinator on its football staff have been heard.


Tight ends coach John Lilly, Coach Mark Richt (Photo by John Kelley)

The Bulldogs now have not one, but two in co-coordinators Mike Ekeler and John Lilly.

What that will ultimately mean on the field remains to be seen after the Bulldogs had big blowups last season in getting off punts and fielding them and didn’t strike fear into many when they returned kicks.

Georgia is devoting two practice periods a day and a walk-through focused on special teams.

There are new drills added and schemes changed.

“I think we’re making some really, really good strides right there,” said Ekeler, the former Southern California assistant who now coaches inside linebackers. “The kids are buying in. They’re going to play their tails off.”

Even with the co-coordinator titles, it might seem like the move is more cosmetic than substantive for coach Mark Richt.

Lilly, Georgia’s tight ends coach, was already heavily involved in special teams.

When asked what’s changed for him, he said “not a whole heck of a lot.”

Special teams responsibilities still are spread out to other assistants.

Ekeler and Lilly are the coordinators, but new defensive assistant Kevin Sherrer is “heavily involved over there,” Ekeler said. Sherrer works with the punt team protection, kickoffs and punt block.

“You talk about punts getting blocked, those change games,” Sherrer said.

Six assistants in all have a hand in special teams, Lilly said, and up to five may work on one unit, but the difference may be the buck will stop with Lilly (punt team, kickoff return, field goal/extra point) and Ekeler (kickoff coverage, punt return, field goal/PAT block ).

Receivers coach Tony Ball will continue to game plan kickoff returns. Ekeler will head up punt returns now since running backs coach Bryan McClendon has added recruiting coordinator responsibilities.

Offensive line coach Will Friend is also involved with the field goal/extra point team.

“I had the kicker last year,” Lilly said half-joking, “because he was pretty good last year.”

That would be first-team all-SEC selection Marshall Morgan.

As far as punter, Lilly couldn’t identify whether Adam Erickson or Collin Barber leads.

“It depends on what day you ask me,” he said.

Richt identified which players the coaches are looking at on special teams units.

“In special teams we are trying to find which guys can do what well,” he said. “We like guys who can run, obviously, make plays in space … we’re trying to learn through drill work that simulates what’s happening in a game to see who can be on these special teams. Our goal’s going to be two special teams per defensive starter. We’ll see if we get to that or not”

Said sophomore linebacker Tim Kimbrough: “Really, they want everybody on all the special teams, all of the defense. I’m going to be working on all of them.”

Safeties Corey Moore, Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger were seen working with Lilly in practice during one special teams period.

There’s still a place for walk-ons like Kosta Vavlas (39 career tackles) who contributed on special teams in the past.

“If a Kosta or a Lucas Redd, somebody like that isn’t a starter on defense, but they’re the best special teamer, we’re not going to pull them out just to say we’ve got a starter in there,” Richt said.

Ekeler is also evaluating which player might be able to block punts.

Lilly said there’s more competition on units for spots than in past springs.

“We’ve got three- and four-deep fighting it out,” he said.

The offseason, without a game to review and opponent to prepare for, has allowed Lilly to step back and look at aspects of special teams through a different prism.

“It’s all about results,” Lilly said. “We were doing it the same way in 2010 when we were pretty darn good in every phase that year and we weren’t good in wins and losses. We were doing it the same way that year that we were doing it last year when ‘disasters’ or whatever happened. I don’t know. Time will tell.”

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