When all is said and done, Georgia‚Äôs football signing class of 2012 will probably be remembered for producing a Heisman Trophy candidate in Todd Gurley, a multi-year offensive line starter in John Theus and a productive pass rusher in Jordan Jenkins.
It also was rather unusual in that it had not just one but two specialists in it: kicker Marshall Morgan and punter Collin Barber.
Morgan is an All-American candidate coming off a season in which he landed as a first-team All-SEC selection.
Barber is just trying to win back his starting job entering his junior season.
That begins, he said, not with his leg, but with his drop.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt care how strong your leg is, if you have a bad drop the ball is not going to go how you want it to,‚Äù Barber said.
Coach Mark Richt has said Barber has the lead over Adam Erickson as the No. 1 punter as the Bulldogs prepare to open the season against Clemson a week from Saturday. Barber didn‚Äôt play in the final two regular season games last season against Kentucky and Georgia Tech and in the Gator Bowl against Nebraska after Erickson took over.
Barber, from Cartersville, worked on drills this offseason with his personal kicking coach, Marc Nolan of Roswell, to make sure the ball was where it needed to be on the drop.
‚ÄúRight over my right foot and nose a little bit down instead of just kind of tossing it up and swinging at it,‚Äù Barber said.
Barber said he‚Äôs taking a ‚Äújab step,‚Äù now before he catches the ball to punt it.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs shortening my steps and my get-off time,‚Äù Barber said.
‚ÄúThe operation time is a big deal,‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúThe snap to the catch to the kick. There‚Äôs a certain time that you‚Äôre looking for and if you‚Äôre too slow in your operation time, it doesn‚Äôt matter how good you block, you‚Äôre probably going to be vulnerable to having your punts blocked. I would say Collin and Adam have done a tremendous job of getting their times down to where they‚Äôre very quick, almost two step punting instead of three step punting.‚Äù
Barber averaged 44.1 yards per punt last season, but the Bulldogs had two of his punts blocked. Erickson averaged 40.5 yards per punt and is likely to handle ‚Äúpooch‚Äù punts again this season.
Those punting averages are on track with the separation that Richt sees of Barber being able to boot the ball in the 45 to 50 yard range with 5.0 second hang times and Erickson from 40 to 45 with 4.5 hang times.
‚ÄúWhether or not we‚Äôre bombing it a little bit further down the road or not quite as far, both guys can get it up on time, can get it up and get to where we can get some coverage under it and get a lot of fair catches,‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs going to be a matter of doing what they do best most consistently.‚Äù
Said Barber: ‚ÄúI‚Äôve hit balls with hang times up until the mid-5s.I know my talent and how good I can hit him them.‚Äù
Barber thinks his improved drop will help him this year, It was impacted last season after he sustained a concussion against Tennessee chasing down a blocked punt.
‚ÄúIt taught me to keep my head on a swivel because those dudes come out of nowhere, man,‚Äù he said.
Barber has some goals for this season. He would like to average at least 44 yards per punt and limit punt return yards by opponents to 10 total. Georgia opponents were credited with 43 punt return yards last season.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm grateful and blessed just to be here, just to wear the ‚ÄòG‚Äô,‚Äù Barber said. ‚ÄúI hope things go as I plan and I have a great season.‚Äù