With an acknowledging smile each time he is asked about it, Mark Richt knows how bad his teams have been returning the ball.
“So far, we have been beating the heck out of the scout team,” Richt said with a smile earlier this week. “We are working first to get into the double digits (of national rankings). Once we hit the double digits we will be on our way.”
According to the NCAA, Georgia actually raked 82nd last season in overall kickoff returns – still not where Richt wants the Dawgs.
It is a serious matter, however, and that’s why Richt has put one of his top players at returner. Starting running back Thomas Brown will be the Bulldogs’ returner this weekend when the team plays Western Kentucky.
“We want our best returner back there, and we think Thomas is that guy,” Richt said. Other speedsters are getting a look at returning the ball, too, but Richt like Brown back there the most.
“Mikey is getting reps back there, too, but Thomas is the guy. There are some pretty prominent players on our kickoff return team – we want to improve there.”
Brown says that he has prepared physically to meet the demands of being both the starting running back and kickoff returner.
“That’s what I did all of that off-season work for,” said Brown. “I tried to get into the best shape possible.”
Brown indicated that there was room for improvement on the kickoff return team.
“A little bit of the problem has been the scheme, but a lot of it has to do with everyone working together. In kickoff return, once one guy messes up, it ruins the whole thing.”
Richt’s annoyance with kickoff return has lead to multiple players getting their shot back there. Brown has returned in the past and will return this season; Ramarcus Brown returned some kicks last season after Tyson Browning got hurt midway through the season. Some time ago, when the unit was clicking, a young Fred Gibson was returning kicks. No matter which Dawg is back there, Brown said, they all know that kickoff return can determine the outcome of the game.
“It’s very important,” Brown said. “It can change the game.”