‘Yeah, we have to look at this kid’s highlight tape again.’

I have to admit that the member of Georgia’s class of 2014 I’m most excited at seeing is Isaiah McKenzie.  Oh, sure, he’s not the physical freak Nick Chubb appears to be and he’s not the combination of size and speed (or the rapper) that his high school teammate Sony Michel is, but he’s fast enough to warrant consideration to play receiver even though he’s only 5’7″ by his own admission.

That’s not his main selling point for me, though.  This is:

“His ability to return kicks and punts is what attracted me the most to him,” Richt said. “I wanted to (offer him) sooner than I did. But we had numbers issues and you kind of had to play the game and see if something broke free. When it looked like we were going to be OK to have a number to give, I couldn’t wait to offer him.”

Thus a Signing Day surprise was born. With Michel a long-time UGA commit, Georgia offered McKenzie the Friday before Signing Day. He said he made his decision the following Monday to attend Georgia, his surprise pick out of nowhere over contenders like Ole Miss and Virginia Tech, which he’d just visited the weekend before Signing Day.

And don’t think McKenzie doesn’t know the opportunity he’s got in front of him.

Last season Georgia ranked 122 out of 123 FBS teams in punt returns (and 108th in kickoff returns), and Richt has been hinting strongly that McKenzie might be tapped to try to change that in 2014.

“I’m just going to take it and run with it and get myself on the field as fast as possible,” McKenzie said. “I’ve heard they need some help with special teams. Special teams have been a bit shaky the past few years. So I just want to come in and bring that special teams back up.”

When’s the last time Georgia had somebody who legitimately put the fear of God in opponents’ coverage teams?  So, yeah, I’m more than intrigued at the possibility this kid represents.  And I’m not the only one.

Richt says, “I’m excited about the kid.”

“He’s fast, quick, and he’s got an air about him. He’s got some confidence coming in,” Richt said.

Yeah, but can he make you share that confidence, Coach?  Is he somebody you can send in to field a punt at the ten yard line?  Here’s hoping he can be that guy.

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UPDATE:  Speaking of highlight tape…

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35 Comments

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35 responses to “‘Yeah, we have to look at this kid’s highlight tape again.’

  1. Irishdawg

    “When’s the last time Georgia had somebody who legitimately put the fear of God in opponents’ coverage teams?”

    pretty sure Brandon Boykin made them a little nervous

    • fetch

      Brandon was one of the best all-around players we’ve had in years. Very much under-rated IMHO.

      • +5000. I was immediately thinking Boykin in answer to that question and I have no idea where he’s playing these days but he was one of the most underrated DGD’s over the last however many years.

        • Hackerdog

          He plays slot corner for the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s one of the best in the NFL at that position. He returned kickoffs in 2012, but didn’t last year.

    • Cosmic Dawg

      Boykin was one of my favorites ever for his enthusiasm. Love that picture if him on the sidelines leaping 10 feet in the air like a frog.

  2. AusDawg85

    I don’t think having players with speed in our kick return teams has been the problem.

    • If you’ve seen any tape on this kid, it’s more than that he’s just fast. He’s an elusive bugger. The question is whether that carries over to the college level.

      • TennesseeDawg

        As long as he doesn’t start fumbling which was the problem with Reggie Davis

      • AusDawg85

        I have…but my snark was aimed at needing an aggressive mentality to go for returns. How many times will it take our opponents to see we’re not in “punt safe” to pull a trick play? (Considering our two opening opponents, I’d say once.) Personally, I’d like to see more going for blocked kicks than kick returns. Even when the aggression fails due to penalty, long, lucky bouncing kick not returned, etc. it stays in the minds of the opponents, changes their alignments, practice schemes, etc. and gives us an edge.

  3. W Cobb Dawg

    “Last year Georgia ranked 122 out of 123 FBS teams in punt returns (and 108th in kickoff returns)…”

    That’s some pathetic special teams coaching.

    • Mayor

      +1.That is exactly the most important statement contained in the linked article. How can a team expect to seriously contend to win anything if it is at the at the bottom of 2 statistical categories in all of D-IA? It’s not like Georgia made up for it with really great defense either. How did we ever win 8 games?

      • Great skill position players on offense and a guy in Bobo who deployed them well more often than not.

        • Mayor

          My point exactly. We won 8 games with the best QB and perhaps the best OC (getting the most out of what players he had left) in college football. Where would we have been without them? The rest of the team was (you fill in the blank).

  4. Cojones

    How about NO ST coaching, WCD? You are too kind.

    Blutarsky, I just made a request on the Sunday Buffet, but I guess you had already written this post. One more Dawgporn posting without warning is going to send some of us to medical care. My wife, the Amnesian, hid the car keys so I have a different problem to contend with first.

    • Eh, you were serious about that? I guess you can skip all my Georgia posts if that makes you happier.

      • Cojones

        First para, – yes. I was being magnanimous to all you anti-Bobos. Second para on “Buffet” and this last para are just trying to be humorous. Adding bloviation jest to bloviation jest and advertising your buffet and Dawgporn.

  5. Macallanlover

    For all of us who wallow in the concern area of secondary, OL, and some doubts with a first year QB, this is an upside that I had forgotten about. I am confident his skills will transfer over to college although the speed gap will close dramatically and reduce the numbers somewhat. Instincts for these “waterbugs” seem to work at any level, and receiving the ball off a punter or kicker’s football isn’t any different at the next level. Biggest concern I see is how good his judgment will be on when to fair catch and when to take that chance, you cannot tell that in film that I have seen. Lot of reason for optimism in this area, offsets some of the negative energy. Thanks for posting this, I need that lift this time of year.

    • Cojones

      How tall were the RBs at Oregon for years? They made a living in the Pac12 and off Tenn using those players. That’s what gives me the same optimism as you with this guy.

      • Macallanlover

        Speed kills regardless of the caliber of the bullet, especially with those “cat like” instincts he seems to have. Not predicting what his worth will be but he seems to have game-changing potential. It has been forever since we had that type of return guy….if ever. And I think, for those doubting this, CMR will definitely use this weapon.

        • FWIW, I think it wise to temper our thoughts just a little, and not get carried away with the speed of McKenzie. Watching his film (and that’s not enough film to really know, we’ll have to see him live), he certainly has good speed. But I’m not sure how elite it is, if it is at all.

          I’d guess his top end speed is about like Marshall’s, which is very good (his burst may not be quite as good as Marshall’s was). But if we’re expecting something that’s rare, I suspect some will be disappointed.

          That’s no reason to curtail excitement, however. He’s fast enough. But as mentioned above, it’s the whole package that makes him exciting.

          As far as returning punts, IMO the best we’ve had is Damien Gary. He’s the best I’ve ever seen at fielding and then making the first guy or two miss. Gary didn’t have good top end speed at all. But every return seemed like a guaranteed 10 to 15 yards. And that’s a heckuva weapon.

          If McKenzie can be as good as Gary was, he’ll be a great weapon, too. The good news is his film shows he can be. And if his burst and speed is really good, that’ll make him even better.

          JMO.
          ~~~

          • Macallanlover

            Speed was not really my emphasis, used that incorrectly to fit the common phrase. It is his shiftiness and instincts that make him special to me. Now he may fumble every time he gets hit and be a bust but he looks different than anyone I have seen in R&B. My way too early call: Richt is right, this one will be special and make a difference early on. (Inserts head in noose…)

            • I actually meant to post that in the general area, not directly to you. Because everybody is talking about his speed, and not just here. He has good speed, maybe very good speed, just not world class or anything.

              But it’s his other stuff that can make him special. You mentioned his instincts. And watching him, something jumped out at me. And that is, he’s as good as anybody I’ve ever seen in a crowd. He just has that thing you can’t teach, and he’s a threat to get out of what would be normally be a ‘hopeless situation’ for most players. His ability to escape might be 98-100 percentile.

              And that is a wonderful quality to have as a returner, especially returning punts. Hard to tell on that small amount of film, but he seems to have enough burst to take advantage of that escapablility at the SEC level.

              So we’ll see. As I said before, he looks like a PLAYER to me. So yeah, he has a great chance to be something special, and have a great career at Georgia, if not beyond.
              ~~~

  6. Spence

    CAN HE FAIR CATCH!?!

    • That, in essence, is the biggest question. Can McKenzie be trusted to handle the ball? Nobody knows the answer to that, and we won’t know until he has some games behind his belt.

      I suspect he can do it, he seems to have the mentality. Which will be great, because I couldn’t stand another punt return play with Malcolm Mitchell, who has no, and has never had any, business handling punts.

      The games where his mishandling of the ball costs us dearly, were deserved and self-inflicted .. a mistake in judgment by coaches. The first requirement in a punt returner should be handling the ball, and we’ve been ignoring that fundamental at our expense.

      So I’m glad Blutarsky posted this, and think he might be right about this kid. I had not yet looked at him. His speed is good, but that in itself is nothing. It’s the whole package. He looks like a player to me. He can help us in a number of ways, IMO, and the slot looks perfect for him.

      And if he’s not on the kick-block and punt-block teams when we line up against Clemson, then we’ll have cause to wonder about our ST coaching all over again.
      ~~~

      • Cojones

        McKensie is perceived to catch the ball since WR was what he ostensibly was recruited as. The same thinking went into MM being back there. Think they both have business back there, but, as you say, we have to see if that confidence stretches to standing, looking up to judge the affects of the wind on the ball and catching it on the dead run, if necessary.

        • Right, fielding punts is a whole different animal than just catching passing. There’s conditions, spin, angles, all kinds of things. And it should come naturally, to whoever is back there.

          That certainly wasn’t the case with anybody we’ve had recently, except McGowan. And I thought putting Mitchell back there this past year, after the year before, was insane. Still do.
          ~~~

  7. DawgFaithful

    His highlight tape is Percy Harvin like. Michel’s is nasty too. They’re definitely the fastest 2 players in this class. There’s even one play on Mckenzie’s tape where Michel breaks a 60yd run and Mckenzie is down field delivering a crushing block to spring michel 10 more yards. Very excited about these 2 and chubb!

  8. Larry

    Kind of reminds me of this guy…

  9. uglydawg

    Keep in mind that we had discussions on this blog about this subject and some of the points that stuck (to me anyway) follow.
    CMR pretty much decided to quit risking punt return fumbles because he had two situations..a defense that definately was better off not going right back onto the field and an offense that could march the ball a long way, kill clock and keep the other team’s offense off of the field.
    Everytime Georgia scored quickly, I experienced mixed emotions..happy for the exciting play and points, but alarmed to see the defense re-appear so quickly. Although I wouldn’t turn a quick score down, long, time consuming , ball controllng drives is my old school preference….esp highlighted by a weak D.
    This may partially explain why Georgia’s dwelling at the bottom in return stats.. (That’s right..in this case it was good to be last in what is normally considered to be a desireable stat). That may be a stretch but it’s something to consider. If so, it points to the remarkable genius of CMR and CMB. An any rate, I’ll grant that things will be much, much better with an adequate defense, an exciting kick return game and an offense good enough to cover any inadequencies of the D and STs.

  10. McTyre

    . . . and then there’s that pesky “blocking” thing as well.

  11. PatinDC

    Clips look good. I hope the kid can bring it to the next level. I would love to see a Champ Bailey level returner. What a difference it makes in a game.

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