September 26, 2012

Special team concerns

Mark Richt from Anthony Dasher on Vimeo.

There hasn't been a lot Mark Richt has had to complain about with his fifth-ranked Bulldogs off to a 4-0 start heading into Saturday afternoon's game against Tennessee (3:30, CBS).

But there are two particular areas that could use some shoring up and both happen to be on special teams.

The first concerns freshman kicker Marshall Morgan, who despite converting 3 of his 4 field goal attempts, has been shaky on extra points.

Morgan missed an extra point in the win over Missouri, one of three he's bounced off the left upright. The two others fortunately deflected the right way.

"He must have played pinball as a kid," Richt said. "You would think you could get it closer to the center post. I'm smiling now, but it could cost us later. I'm trying to be patient."

Morgan is trying to keep his cool.

"I need to fix it, said the Florida native, who said he's been getting a lot of free advice on Twitter.

"There's nice people out there are saying 'you're making my heart race, don't give me a heart attack by putting them off the up-right,'" he added. "I don't want to give them a heart attack so I'm going to help them out this game."

Richt is quick to point out that Morgan's doesn't deserve all the blame.

"We had the one bad snap (against Vanderbilt). It was a little high and hot, maybe catchable but certainly not where we wanted the snap to be from a veteran center. We've got to clean that up," he said. "There were some protection issues on that as well. We had some leakage inside of our wing-man which I don't mind saying that publically because they watch film and it's obvious that we had some problems. We've got to clean that up, too."

Punt returner Malcolm Mitchell has had his own issues.

Against Missouri, Mitchell fumbled a return before recovering, and last week against Vanderbilt made a poor decision when he tried to field a punt inside his 10-yard line, mistakes Richt said need to be corrected soon.

"We've just had overall too many bad decisions, obviously. Not good enough communication. We've caught the ball inside the 10 when we shouldn't, we've let the ball bounce and not field it when we should have. We've had a not-very good looking fair catch issue," Richt said. "These aren't all Malcolm's issues; we've had very poor communication at times on whether or not we get out of the way. This is the last couple of years."

If Mitchell's problems continue, Richt said wide receiver Rhett McGowan could get a longer look, particularly in punt-safe situations.

"It may end up being Rhett McGowan before it's over if he can communicate the best, secure the ball the best, and field the ball the best, so we're trying to find an answer there," Richt said. "I will say this, it is not an easy job; it's a tough job. People flying down the field, your eyes are up in the air, you're trying to decide what you're going to do while thinking somebody's about to hit you in the mouth. It's not an easy job and we're trying to get it settled down the best we can, but we're going to continue to work Malcolm and Rhett."

Mitchell knows it's an area of his game he must improve.

"We've discussed that one punt return. It's just something I've got to recognize," Mitchell said Monday. "I usually have my heels on the 10 so I know where I'm at, but he kicked it so far I got lost, really. We've got to minimize those errors."

Senior Branden Smith is apparently not an option.

"He had some of the same issues the year before, actually for a couple of years," Richt said. "I don't know if he's got a short memory or not, but he was having some of those same issues the year before. Right now we're going to try and continue to coach and teach and hope it gets ironed out."

Jones returns to practice

After sitting out Monday and Tuesday, starting left defensive end Abry Jones returned to practice Wednesday and appears ready to go for Saturday's game against the Volunteers.

"Abry has been very steady, a very reliable, consistent performer," Richt said. "He's gotten consistently better as well. He's become a leader for us, has been named captain for us on more than one occasion and certainly helped our offseason as much as anybody."

The only new addition to Georgia's post-practice injury report was backup running back Brandon Harton, who sat out with a left thumb sprain. Offensive linemen Watts Dantzler (left ankle sprain) and Hunter Long (left foot fracture) were both limited during Wednesday's workout. Dantzler is expected to play."

Eliminating big plays a key for Saturday

With quarterback Tyler Bray at the offensive controls for Tennessee, preventing big plays figures to be a key item on Georgia's agenda.

Considering that's been one of the Georgia's weaknesses thus far, Richt's concern is a legitimate one.

"It's big and I hope it can be corrected. I think sometimes when you play certain defenses and certain looks, you're vulnerable to a deep ball once in a while," Richt said. "You can play totally back and soft in coverage and say we're not going to let anything behind us, but then he picks you apart underneath and you die a slow death. So, I think by disrupting routes, playing man coverage and disrupting the timing, you figure you're going to win more times than you lose, or at least you hope you're going to."

Quotable

"Don't tell him about (Bacarri) Rambo and Tree (Alec Ogletree. … I'm just kidding. We didn't say anything about that." - Richt to a reporter who walked in late to Wednesday's post-practice press conference.

This and that

Georgia practiced for two hours Wednesday in short, helmets and shoulder pads. "I thought it was a good day. I keep bragging about the scouts but they keep doing a good job. I thought we threw and caught it very well. I thought we did a good job competing when it was time to compete. I thought it was a good day." … Richt did not say whether or not Malcolm Mitchell would start at cornerback against the Vols. "I don't want to tell everyone what we're going to do, but both those guys will play."