- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia’s staff didn’t waste any time trying to forge a bond between the new kicker-punter tandem to replace Blair Walsh and Drew Butler.
“Me and Marshall have become really good friends,” Barber said after Thursday’s practice. “We’ve roomed together and we see each other every day and depend on each other. We’ve gotten to where we can depend on each other and hold each other accountable.”
Both players realize they face significant pressure right away. With the Bulldogs carrying a No. 6 ranking into the season, they don’t need a freshman kicker to make any huge mistakes that could mean the difference between a win and a loss -- and Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said the stakes might have generated a bit of nervousness.
“Actually since I got here, I felt the responsibility,” Morgan said. “I know it’s a lot of pressure. It’s a big job and all the Georgia fans, they don’t take it as a joke. It’s serious, SEC football. It’s big, so I felt it.”
Morgan attempted only one field goal in Wednesday’s first preseason scrimmage -- he estimated the distance at about 35 yards -- and missed. Although Richt said backup kicker Jamie Lindley has not made a serious push to overtake Morgan as the starting kicker, the freshman still realizes he must continue to improve.
“I feel really comfortable with the team, the snapper, the line. The whole operation is going really well,” Morgan said. “We still have a lot to improve for these next three weeks. I think we can do it.”
Richt frequently compliments Barber for his ability to punt the ball high and allow his coverage team extra time to sprint down the field to cover the kick. Barber agreed that is one of his strengths as a punter.
“I guess you could say that,” he said. “I guess I was blessed with long legs to get the ball up in the air for a while. It does help me a lot.”
Morgan is also competing with Lindley to become the Bulldogs’ kickoff specialist, but said nobody has been named the starter yet -- nor does he know when the coaches might announce that decision.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy just coming in here to start,” Morgan said. “Lindley’s a great kicker and also Adam Erickson and Collin Barber, they can also kick, too, so it’s just one big competition. I’m not taking anything for granted.”
Name your 70: Richt said after Wednesday’s scrimmage that he would have a simple instruction for his coaching staff during their Thursday meeting.
“I want to say, ‘All right, if we had to travel 70 today, put 'em up there,’ ” Richt said, referring to the SEC-imposed limit of taking only 70 players to a road conference game.
The problem, Richt said, is the coaches often use enough players during camp in position and special-teams drills that they could easily have more than 70 players in mind that first road game -- at Missouri on Sept. 8. It’s best to begin narrowing down the numbers as early as possible.
“Because what happens sometimes is you’ll start working special-teamers and each coach is working his guys and he’s got guys he likes,” Richt said. “And if you’re not smart enough to check in advance, like that Monday [before the game] you throw that team up there, and you’re like, ‘There’s 76 names up there.’ And then you’re like, ‘Well shoot, we’ve got to pull some guys off,’ and some of the guys have been getting reps on the special.
“So I’ve got to get that board up there now so we see that there’s a limit and we’ve got to maybe take this kid and teach him that [job] instead of every single guy having their own little niche. We may not be able to do that.”
The narrowing-down process includes trying to limit the number of backup kickers and specialists such as holders and snappers who would make the trip -- or at least teaching some specialists multiple roles in case of an emergency.
If they don’t, Richt said, “before you know it you’ve got six or seven guys in that group and then you’re taking away from another guy that can run and hit, that can tackle and make plays. You’ve got to be careful.”
Injury update: Cornerback Branden Smith practiced in a green non-contact jersey after suffering a left shoulder contusion, although Richt said he still made a red-zone interception during a drill. Fellow cornerback Damian Swann also practiced in green following a neck sprain.
Out were tailback Brandon Harton (hip bruise), outside linebacker Dexter Morant (shoulder sprain), defensive end Ray Drew (concussion), safety Marc Deas (hamstring strain) and tight end Hugh Williams (broken hand).
Extra points: Richt threw some compliments senior Smith’s way when he opened his post-practice media session Thursday. Of Smith, he said, “it seems like every day he’s making some kind of play and bringing intensity to every rep.” … Richt said Merritt Hall remains the No. 1 fullback, ahead of Richard Samuel and freshman Quayvon Hicks. … Freshman Josh Harvey-Clemons said he is working at both safety spots, but likes strong safety best because of its proximity to the line of scrimmage. He is also practicing at nickelback. … Erickson is in line to replace Drew Butler as the holder on extra points and field goals, ahead of Lindley and Barber. … First-team left tackle Kenarious Gates, who started nine games at guard last year, said he is working only at tackle during practice.
1dSam Khan Jr.