I haven’t done much posting on the first few practices because it’s early and because, quite frankly, the usual suspects like Hale and Weiszer (along with the guys at The Red and Black) are doing great jobs getting us info that I presume you’re following as steadily as am I.
But I’ve got to admit that Weiszer’s article on Brandon Bogotay prompts an observation or two.
It illustrates one of the key battles to keep an eye on this month. No, not the battle between Bogotay and Blair Walsh over who wins the kickoff job. It’s the battle between kicking the ball into the end zone and directional kickoffs. And judging from this Coach Fabris quote, it’s a battle that’s going to go down to the wire.
“Do you change?” asked assistant coach Jon Fabris, who oversees the unit. “That’s kind of like saying we’ve been running the offense we’ve been running here and we sign a Michael Vick – that kind of guy. Do you implement some things for (Georgia’s dual-threat backup quarterback) Logan Gray? Do you emphasize some things to show him off? That’s no different than that deal.”
Um, let’s just skip past that whole Logan Gray-as-Michael Vick thing, if you don’t mind. Is Fabris suggesting that Bogotay should be deployed as a change of pace type on kickoffs? That makes little sense. If bottom line Georgia’s opponents start off with worse field position on average with directional kicking that with end-zone kicking, then you stick with directional. But if kicking another way proves to be a better way to skin the cat, what’s the point of deploying it only on occasion?
Now I know things aren’t as simple as kick the ball as hard as you can and see where it lands – even Richt, whose decision to offer the scholarship to Bogotay in the past offseason without doing any personal scouting is one of the most intruiging moves I’ve seen him make, offers a caveat.
“They still have to kick it to a spot, whether they kick it in the end zone or not,” Richt said. “You can’t just spray the ball any old where. You can’t kick with reckless abandon and say, ‘I hope it’s going out of the end zone,’ because if it doesn’t, your cover team has no prayer.”
But you can tell he’s not married to any particular philosophy. He simply knows that kickoff coverage is an area that is in need of drastic improvement this season. Fabris, on the other hand, sounds like a man in need of some convincing.
“What can a guy do?” Fabris said. “Not only what can he do once, twice, 10 percent of the time. What can he do, not 100 percent, but fairly consistently and what can you hang your hat on? If it’s just sometimes this, sometimes that, you don’t know what you can hang your hat on.”
The NCAA moved kickoffs from the 35-yard line to the 30 before the 2007 season. Walsh had four touchbacks and kicked eight of his 75 kickoffs out of bounds last season. The out-of-bounds kicks were particularly painful because they carry a penalty that can give the receiving team possession at its 40-yard line.
“Go way, way back and the idea of kicking the ball to a certain area of the field certainly isn’t to kick the ball a yard from the sideline – just to get it down in the general area,” Fabris said. “If the ball is sprayed out of bounds, it’s like a wide-open receiver if the ball is thrown 15 feet over his head. After a while, if that ball keeps not being thrown right, you have to say, well, what else can we do?
“If you were the head coach and you had a guy that could put the ball in the second row of the end zone every time, what would you do?”
Like I said, it’s something to watch over the next three weeks.
UPDATE: Now we know who Fabris’ favorite kicker is.
“Billy Bennett did not have a real strong leg,” Fabris said. “In fact, he never kicked off until his senior year and really did it out of the bottom of his heart because we didn’t have anybody, but the thing about Billy is even though he didn’t have a very strong leg, he knew where it was going to land just about every time. At least that was the thing. He could place the ball. You’ve just got to know what you can do. And of course, the more things a kid can do, (the better). For example, the winds blowing fairly good at your back, `Hey, I think we can get this one in the end zone five yards deep.’ ‘Hey, go for it.’ How about the next quarter when you’re kicking into it? That doesn’t’ work anymore.”