- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia’s renewed special teams emphasis this preseason has not necessarily resulted in an extra quantity of practice reps, according to special teams ace Blake Sailors.
The emphasis has been on quality -- improved quality of the work in practice and higher quality personnel on those coverage units that struggled a season ago.
“We haven’t done anything more. It’s just the same stuff that we’ve been doing,” said Sailors, who earned a scholarship based largely on his effectiveness as a gunner on special teams. “It’s just Coach [Mark] Richt has usually been kind of lenient, but he’s more strict now and we’re putting more starters and guys like that on it. So they just want to put the best guys out on the field that can play and stuff like that so that we don’t give up those big plays.”
The Bulldogs’ issues surrendering big kick returns are well-documented by this point. They ranked 116th out of 120 FBS teams in punt return defense (14.93 yards per return), 88th in kickoff return defense (23.05 ypr) and allowed four return touchdowns.
Richt guaranteed that the Bulldogs would work to fix the issues at the end of last season and vowed that more starters would work with all of the special teams groups. Several veterans -- even players like Jarvis Jones and Shawn Williams -- have discussed their work covering kicks this preseason, and Sailors believes they’re making a difference.
“It’s definitely improving,” he said. “We gave up a bunch of big plays last year and we don’t want any of that to happen again this year, so we’re really focusing on special teams being a big part of the game because it really is important. So Coach Richt’s put a big emphasis on that.
As one of the team’s most effective kick return defenders, Sailors said he is also trying to help make sure the Bulldogs shore up their problems from a season ago.
“For me, I just want to step up and be a leader for the young guys because I’ve been doing it,” Sailors said. “That’s like all I’ve been doing for two years so I want to tell people what I know and what I’ve learned and tell them some of the things I do in games and stuff like that so everybody can improve and we can be one of the best special teams units in the country.”
Scrimmage Wednesday: The Bulldogs will hold their third team scrimmage on Wednesday at Sanford Stadium with a completely different setup than the previous two, when the first-team offense and defense went against the backups.
Wednesday’s practice game will feature the regulars against the scout team, which will simulate Buffalo -- Georgia’s opening opponent on Sept. 1.
“We got accomplished what we meant to get accomplished which was getting our scout teams for Buffalo ready to play the ‘game’ tomorrow,” Richt said in a university release after Monday’s short practice. “We were in shorts and it was only 12 periods, which wasn’t too physically taxing. It was mostly mental preparation for our getting ready for Buffalo and our scout teams getting ready to be Buffalo.”
The Bulldogs will also hold a situational scrimmage on Thursday where they work on various game-like scenarios. Both scrimmages will be closed to the media and public.
Injury update: Tight end Jay Rome joined the list of injured Bulldogs on Tuesday after leaving Monday’s practice with a hamstring strain.
10hSam Khan Jr.
5dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough