Spe­cial teams could make or break Tech’s sea­son

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL SPORTS - By Ge­orge Henry GE­OR­GIA TECH

Coach Paul John­son will open the sea­son know­ing what to ex­pect from his spread op­tion of­fense and the team’s new de­fen­sive scheme.

Ge­or­gia Tech, as it’s done since John­son took charge in 2008, will run the ball about 85 per­cent of the time with John­son call­ing the plays.

The de­fense, now aligned in a 3-4 un­der co­or­di­na­tor Nate Woody, has been de­signed to cre­ate more pres­sure and turnovers. The Yel­low Jack­ets worked all off­sea­son to get quicker and more ag­ile in ball pur­suit.

But after Ge­or­gia Tech hit rock bot­tom on spe­cial teams last year, John­son knows that 2018 could hinge on how well the Yel­low Jack­ets per­form in the kick­ing game.

They went 5-6 last sea­son, miss­ing a bowl for the sec­ond time in three years, in large part be­cause they ranked 99th na­tion­ally in kick­off re­turns and 115th in kick­off cov­er­age.

Ge­or­gia Tech al­lowed six kick­off re­turns of at least 40 yards. They ranked 65th in punt re­turns and 89th in punt cov­er­age, the lat­ter cat­e­gory a dis­ap­point­ment given that re­turn­ing punter Pres­ley Harvin ranked sec­ond in the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence with an av­er­age of 44 yards.

Kick­ers Shawn Davis and Brenton King com­bined to hit only seven field goals in just 10 at­tempts and to miss four ex­tra-points.

With the opener just two weeks away, the team has yet to set­tle on a kicker with Davis, King and walk-on fresh­man Wes­ley Wells com­pet­ing for field-goal, ex­tra-point and kick­off du­ties. Davis won the job in camp last year but suf­fered a sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury in the fifth game at Mi­ami.

“I have no idea who the kicker’s go­ing to be,” John­son said Wed­nes­day. “It’s been a lit­tle less than stel­lar in camp, just to be hon­est. We’ll work it out. We’ve still got a cou­ple of weeks. We’re chart­ing every kick and we’ll fig­ure out who gives us the best chance.”

The ba­sics, like ac­cu­racy, aren’t the only prob­lem.

“It’s not get­ting them off, although some­times it is,” John­son said. “Yes­ter­day the hold­ers dropped two.”

Se­nior re­ceiver Brad Ste­wart is first on the depth chart to re­turn punts for the third straight year. He was steady with no fum­bles but his long­est re­turn was 21 yards in 16 at­tempts last sea­son.

John­son still isn’t sure who will han­dle kick­off re­turns. He tried four dif­fer­ent play­ers last year and had a steady turnover in block­ers.

Noth­ing seemed to work.

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