Georgia’s success with its coverage units on special teams has been a point of pride for head coach Kirby Smart.
Although a lot of the credit goes to punter Cameron Nizialek for his distance and hangtime, and Rodrigo Blankenship’s penchant for touchbacks, there’s been a significant uptick in talent on the Bulldogs’ coverage units that has not gone unnoticed.
If it seems the Bulldogs are faster than they’ve been in recent years, you’d be correct.
“Last year we had 10 guys who practiced over 19 mph,” Smart said after practice on Tuesday. “This year we have like 21 guys covering 19 mph, so we’ve doubled the number of guys who are running 20 mph or faster.”
“I think it’s two-fold. I think we have faster players, we have more players who can run and we’ve got players practicing in cooler buildings so we’re not getting as tired as fast,” Smart said. “The GPS, the science says, that we are a faster team. Speed helps on special teams but we’re also kicking the ball better.”
Nizialek has certainly done that.
While his average of 44.3 yards per punt is certainly impressive, his hangtime of nearly six seconds per attempt is what stands out for Smart.
“You kick it 63 yards in three seconds that’s not good. We look for hangtime and distance to match,” Smart said. “He’s done that, although if not for players like Jayson Stanley, Lorenzo Carter and Roquan Smith, some of those may get further returns. It’s combination of punt and coverage, which is obviously better than it was last year. We have to keep that up though.”
Parrish continues to improve
Cornerback Malkom Parrish is looking more and more like a go for Saturday’s game against Mississippi State (7 p.m., ESPN).
“We’ve kind of got him on a pitch count,” Smart said. “He had 16 plays (Monday) about 30-40 (Tuesday) and we’ll try to keep increasing that.”
If Parrish – who has missed the entire season – is able to go, he’s expected to start over right-corner Tyrique McGhee.
…Smart said defensive tackle Tyler Clark will play in Saturday’s game.
Smart not worried about “secrets”
Smart said he’s not worried that Mississippi State tight end coach D.J. Looney, a graduate assistant with the Georgia program last fall, will be able to pass along any info not already available.
"Everybody knows our personnel. They’ve got tape and they watch tape. What does he know that Todd Grantham doesn’t know? I honestly don’t think that there are any secrets,” Smart said. “What we’ve put on tape, in all of our games last year and this year, is the same thing Looney saw the whole time he was here.”
Smart said he’s pleased that Looney landed a full-time job.
“I’m extremely happy for D.J. Looney,” Smart said. “I think he’s a great coach, great recruiter. He did nothing but work his tail off while he was here, and he got a great opportunity to go back to his alma mater and coach.’’
Georgia split up its practice to a certain degree on Tuesday.
During the media’s two viewing periods, the offensive practiced inside the team’s indoor athletic facility with the defense taking their game to the outside.
“It was a little bit warm out there. The kids started out well and some of them ran out of gas toward the end. We got a lot of reps. I thought it was a physical practice, which we needed because they’re (Miss. State) a very physical team,” Smart said. “But we’ve got a lot to improve on, they’ve got a hard quarterback to defend and they’ve got a big front. So, we’ve got a lot of challenges this week. I’m excited about where the team is and I’m looking forward to finding out how our guys respond to playing a team that’s big and physical, kind of similar to us.’’