To the rest of the Southeastern Conference, it must seem like Georgia has had place-kicker Blair Walsh and punter Drew Butler forever. For Richt, it must feel like heaven. Both players were recently named to Georgia’s team of the decade at their position.
Once again, and for the final time, Walsh and Butler are back to lead Georgia’s special teams.
In Walsh, the Bulldogs have a player with two 53-yard field goals on his resume. He is fourth in school history with 303 points scored, and he has been either a finalist or a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award (which goes to the nation’s best placekicker) the last two years.
Last season, Walsh showed a chink his armor with a missed extra point. It was his first and only collegiate miss after making 119 to begin his career. That was one of his few hiccups. He hit 20-of-23 field goals last year, making him 40-of-45 the last two seasons.
Walsh’s 87 percent success rate last year was the second-best in the SEC, and he was second in the league in field goals, behind only LSU’s Josh Jasper.
Butler’s numbers are even better. He was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award (which goes to the nation’s top punter) a year ago after winning the award last year. The man with a 75-yard punt on his resume has downed three kicks inside the 20-yard line in a single game five times in his career.
Last season, he had 14 punts of more than 50 yards. He became just the seventh Bulldog in school history to be named an academic All-American and an athletic All-American in their career.
Butler was fourth in the SEC last season in average at 44.5 yards per kick.
The seniors, though, aren’t the only players who Richt and the Bulldogs will be counting on in their special teams units. In fact, the development of other players may be a more important indicator of how much impact Georgia’s special teams can have on the season.
Junior Branden Smith leads the list of those who need to develop. Smith has proven he’s a dangerous man with the ball in his hands, but he has yet to translate that into being a consistent threat in the punt return game.
Smith averaged 14.3 yards per punt return last year, which would have ranked fourth in the SEC if he had enough returns to qualify. The fact that Smith returned only 10 kicks and shared time with Logan Gray among others is proof enough that he needs to work on his ball security and consistency to become a feared weapon.
Kickoff return man Brandon Boykin was sixth in the SEC with a 24.3-yard per return average and had one return touchdown, a 100-yard score against Kentucky.
All Georgia’s kickoff coverage team needs to do is maintain its level. The Bulldogs led the SEC in kick coverage last year, averaging 46.4 yards per kickoff.