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SPRING PREVIEW: Fan favorite Rodrigo Blankenship aims for his last season at UGA to be his best
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SPRING PREVIEW: Fan favorite Rodrigo Blankenship aims for his last season at UGA to be his best

SPRING PREVIEW: Fan favorite Rodrigo Blankenship aims for his last season at UGA to be his best

SPRING PREVIEW: Fan favorite Rodrigo Blankenship aims for his last season at UGA to be his best

Georgia football-Spring Preview-PK Rodrigo Blankenship aims for last season to be best at UGA-Georgia Bulldogs

PRE-SPRING FOOTBALL ANALYSIS

Part VII: The Kicking Game

This is Part 8 in a series breaking down and analyzing each position group for the Georgia Bulldogs in advance of spring football practice, which is scheduled to begin on March 19.

ATHENS — Rodrigo Blankenship says it’s important to have a short memory as a place-kicker. Hopefully that philosophy extends to seasons as well as from kick-to-kick.

Blankenship did not have a bad season in 2018. Not by a long stretch. In fact, there’s a good argument to be made that Blankenship should have won the Lou Groza Award, which goes annually to the nation’s premier place-kicker. Or at least been a finalist. Alas, he was only a semifinalist.

The Groza went instead to Syracuse’s Andre Szmyt, who had a fine year as the Orange’s place-kicker (61-61 PATs, 30-34 FGs). But he didn’t handle kickoffs, and neither did two or three of the finalists. None those kickers came close to Blankenship “total kicking” number, which is 14.57.

Blankenship was 19-of-23 on field goals and a perfect 65-of-65 on PATs. But where he really distinguished himself was in the area of kickoffs. Those who have paid close attention to the rising senior’s career realize that was once a shortcoming. It’s not anymore. After struggling to reach the end zone as a redshirt freshman, Blankenship recorded touchbacks on 71.2 percent of kickoffs as a sophomore and 85.4 percent (82-of-96) as a junior.

Nevertheless, if Blankenship were to tell you how his junior year went from a production standpoint, he’d probably come back with an “OK.” For while he provided the Bulldogs with what they most needed — a dependable and consistent presence — Blankenship aspires to perfection. Meanwhile, the times where he was able to be a difference maker such as he was in 2017 were few and far between last. In fact, Blankenship’s most defining kick of a 2018 was a miss. While it represented only one failure in a cascade of failures in the second half of the SEC Championship Game, there’s no downplaying the effect of Blankenship’s hooked 30-yard field-goal try against Alabama. With Georgia leading by two touchdowns with 8:20 remaining in the third quarter, it represented the crack in a dam that would give way to an all-out breach as the Crimson Tide came from behind for a 35-28 win.

“The play clock got real low and we kind of rushed it,” a downtrodden Blankenship said of the shocking miss. “We rushed to get it off. I rushed my approach. You saw the results.”

And then there were the fakes. Blankenship found himself at the center of two of them. Both of them failed miserably. The one early against LSU in which he was asked to run for a first down on fourth-and-11 completely stole the momentum from the Bulldogs for the rest of the game. The one at the end against Auburn — a pass to Isaac Nauta — was unnecessary from a time and score standpoint and also for revealed to future opponents a good play that could’ve been better utilized in a more meaningful moment (not to mention that it bordered on poor sportsmanship).

So in a lot of ways, 2018 was a forgettable season for Blankenship. The good news is, he remains ever-forgetful, as all good kickers are taught to be. The Allstate Good Works team finalist is a tireless and conscientious worker and a meticulous tinkerer. He will be a year older, will be bigger and stronger and should not only be one of Georgia greatest offensive threats, but remain one of the fans’ most beloved Bulldogs.

As long as Blankenship gets to stick to doing what he does best — kicking the football — his senior season should be his best of all. And maybe those folks at the Palm Beach Sports Commission who present the Groza Award will recognize Mr. Rec Specs for what he is — one of the greatest kickers in the college game.

KICKING GAME

  • Returning starters: Place-kickers — Rodrigo Blankenship, 6-1, 191, senior; kick returners — none
  • Others returning: Kickers — Brooks Buce, 6-0, 175, RSo.; Jake Camarda, 6-2, 180, So.; Jack Podlesny, 6-4, 180, RFr.; returners — Brian Herrien, 6-0, 210, Sr.; Tyler Simmons, 6-0, 201, Sr.; Demetris Robertson, 6-0, 190, Jr.; Eric Stokes, 6-1, 185, Jr.; Tyson Campbell, 6-2, 185, So.; Kearis Jackson, 6-0, 200, RFr.
  • Early enrollees: N/A
  • On the way: Dominick Blaylock, 6-1, 195, freshman
  • Analysis: Rodrigo Blankenship rates among the top returning kickers in the country in terms of “total kicking,” which takes into account extra points, field goals and kickoffs. But he was not as automatic as today’s NFL kickers are, and that’s what he aspires to be. Blankenship will look to cut down on the number of misses from last year (4). Two were in the 30-yard range and the other two were from over 40. He will also hope to get more more field-goal opportunities (23). … Georgia definitely had a special returner in Mecole Hardman, who handled kickoffs almost exclusively and most punts as well. But there’s room for improvement. The Bulldogs were fourth among SEC teams in kickoff returns (22.85 yards) and did not have a touchdown return for a second straight season. Finding a player capable of taking the ball the length of the field will be a priority in spring practice. The candidates are many.
  • Bottom line: Georgia should again be one of the best teams in the SEC and the country as far as placement kicks and kickoffs. The key will be taking advantage of that strength and not botch it through ill-conceived and unnecessary risk-taking. Likewise, having fewer miscues and becoming more consistent in the return game would be helpful to the Bulldogs’ cause as well. With advantages in other areas on the field, Georgia simply needs to hold serve on special teams to do what it needs to win. But with the talent at the coaches disposal, it should be able to do much more than that.

UP NEXT: Bulldogs look for improvement on punts while breaking in a new long snapper in 2019.

SPRING FOOTBALL PREVIEW

The post SPRING PREVIEW: Fan favorite Rodrigo Blankenship aims for his last season at UGA to be his best appeared first on DawgNation.

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Local News

  • The 2019 Alumni Weekend is underway at UGA: activities that began Thursday continue today and tomorrow at the University of Georgia. From the University of Georgia master calendar… The UGA Alumni Association wants to welcome alumni back to Athens and make them feel like students again. Come back to campus, relive the glory days with friends and loved ones, and experience what it's like to be a student in Athens today.Registration covers: * Thursday: Orientation Dinner with President Jere W. Morehead * Friday: Classes, meals, reception at Wall & Broad and TEDxUGA * Saturday: Commencement Brunch The University of Georgia’s curriculum committee meets today: it’s a 3:30 session at New College on Herty Drive in Athens. 
  • Georgia track and field’s Elija Godwin has been named the Southeastern Conference Men’s Freshman of the Week following his performance at the Yellow Jacket Invitational, according to a league announcement.   Godwin, a native of Covington, Ga., and graduate of Newton High School, is the Bulldogs’ first outdoor weekly award winner following the first collegiate outdoor meet of his career.   Godwin clocked a career best 10.47 into -0.4 wind to be the top 100-meter dash finisher in the 33-man field. This finish ranks No. 13 nationally (No. 8 nationally for wind-legal times under 2.0 meters/second), makes him the No. 4 freshman nationally and the No. 3 SEC performer in 2019. He returned to win the 200m with a 20.90, which is his fastest time of 2019 and second best of his career, to move to No. 3 nationally (No. 2 for wind-legal times) as the country’s top freshman and No. 2 competitor from the SEC.   Georgia trains through the coming weekend before splitting squads to the Florida Relays (March 28-30) and Raleigh Relays (March 29-30).
  • Barrow County Commissioners meet in a special session today: they’re scheduled to vote on a proposal that would place an ambulance station at Northeast Georgia Medical Center Barrow in Winder. It’s a plan to end a dispute between the Barrow County government and the city of Winder over who provides ambulance service inside the Winder city limits. This morning’s Commission meeting is set for 8:15 in Winder.  The Franklin County School Board is sending to the Georgia School Superintendent’s Association the list of 32 candidates who have applied to be the next school superintendent in Carnesville. The Board is looking to replace Wayne Randall, who will retire at the end of the current school year. Randall was told by the Board that his contract would not be renewed.  The Hall County city of Oakwood is getting a new top cop: Tim Hatch is now the police chief in St. Mary’s; he’ll take over in Oakwood, replacing former Chief Randall Moon, who retired last month. Hatch’s resume’ includes time on the force with the University of Georgia campus police department and the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office. 
  • The Georgia football team held its second practice of spring drills on Thursday on the Woodruff Practice Fields.   The Bulldogs practiced for approximately two hours in helmets, shoulder pads, and shorts. The practice was No. 2 of what is expected to be 15 during the spring, which will culminate with the annual G-Day Game on Saturday, April 20. The Bulldogs will return to the practice fields on Saturday.   Senior Charlie Woerner was asked how the transition is going for the tight ends with him as the elder statesman following the departures of Isaac Nauta and Jackson Harris and with the addition of new tight ends coach Todd Hartley.   “Things have started well,” Woerner said. “Day 2 is done, and we’re looking as good as we can two days in. I think we’re pretty far ahead on our installs. It’s a lot different (in the tight ends room), but it’s fine. We have a really good group, a lot of good guys in the room. It feels like it’s my time and I’m ready to have a big year, but I don’t feel any pressure. All I can do is my best for this team.”   Junior Jeremiah Holloman also finds himself in a potential leadership role on and off the field among the receivers since the Bulldogs said goodbye to the likes of Terry Godwin, Riley Ridley, Mecole Hardman, and Ahkil Crumpton.   “I feel like our whole room can step in and contribute,” Holloman said. “We have guys just waiting for a chance. I stepped in last year and made an impact (with 24 catches for 418 yards and five touchdowns), and we have plenty of guys like that. We have a load of guys capable of going out there and competing and making plays.”   On Wednesday, all 32 NFL teams were in attendance as the Bulldogs eligible for next month’s draft participated in Pro Day drills.   The G-Day Game is slated for Saturday, April 20, at 2 p.m. at Sanford Stadium. The game will be televised by the SEC Network.
  • From the Athens-Clarke County government website... The Athens-Clarke County Fire and Emergency Services Department will celebrate the arrival of their new Engine 25 with a traditional “push-in” ceremony to place the equipment into service at Fire Station #5 at 1090 Whit Davis Road on Friday, March 22 at 3:00 p.m. Engine 25 will replace a 19-year old model that will move into reserve status for the community. The 2018 E-One Cyclone Engine cost approximately $650,000 fully equipped. Some of its features include a modern thermal imaging for search and rescue, a 1250 gallon per minute pump and a 780 gallon water tank, an emission system that meets current regulations, and wireless headsets with an intercom system for Fire and Emergency Services personnel with connectivity to the 911 radio system. Due to this station’s location that serves rural portions of the territory with fewer streetlights, Engine 25 also has LED headlight technology and lights in the front and above the side doors to supplement the two telescoping scene lights. The public is invited to attend the 'push-in' ceremony, which will feature brief remarks, the 'push-in' of Engine 25, and refreshments. For more information, contact the ACC Fire and Emergency Services Department at 706-613-3360.

Bulldog News

  • ATHENS — Georgia football practice No. 2 is in the books, the Bulldogs still working to establish a new identity and new leaders. There weren’t many clues in the open portion of practice on Thursday, but Kirby Smart will talk on Saturday and provide more insight into how he sees the Bulldogs developing. The early sentiment is this UGA team could throw the ball more, but it won’t come at the expense of being able to run the football. DawgNation reporters give their early takes on how Georgia is evolving in what will be Smart’s fourth season at the helm. Mike Griffith & Chip Towers   Georgia football practice headlines Kirby Smart sheds light on James Coley’s ‘balanced’ philosophy J.R. Reed puts NFL dreams on hold for title run Georgia football injury updates, Zamir White status James Coley ‘likes to throw more’ than Jim Chaney Offensive line, Brian Herrien look the part Complete Georgia early enrollee roster numbers   The post WATCH: DawgNation observations from Georgia football spring practice No. 2 appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — The qualifier remains that “Georgia is going to be Georgia,” but it’s starting to sound more and like the Bulldogs are going to throw the football more in 2019. The Georgia players are all excited about James Coley taking over the offense from Jim Chaney. The consensus is that more of the playbook will be used, and more balls will fly through the air. The Bulldogs had the heaviest run ratio of any non-option team in 2017, and last season Georgia lead the SEC in rushing. But Coley could be a game-changer calling plays. “His first instinct would be to throw,” Bulldogs senior tight end Charlie Woerner said Thursday. “Just knowing him, every G-Day game (Coley) is the offensive coordinator on one team, and Chaney is the other, and you look at the stats and it’s a lot more pass-heavy on Coach Coley’s team than Chaney’s. “Chaney is just a little more old-school running the ball, which I didn’t mind that either, but (Coley) likes to throw more than Chaney.” Junior receiver J.J. Holloman agreed following Thursday’s practice. “I’m confident that he will throw the ball a lot more, and we’ll have more explosive plays to look forward to,” said Holloman, UGA’s leading returning receiver. Junior tailback D’Andre Swift is a returning 1,000-yard rusher and the Georgia offensive line is a powerful group capable or road-grading most any opponent. But Swift is also adept at catching the football out of the backfield, and that offensive line is talented in pass protection. Perhaps most importantly, Jake Fromm is a third-year starting quarterback, and Holloman said that factors in as much as Coley. “It’s a mix of both, (Fromm) having all the experience he has,’ Holloman said, “and Coley opening the playbook and making a lot of things happen.” Mecole Hardman is headed to the NFL, but the speedy junior receiver said he, too, expects more passing in the UGA offense. RELATED: NFL WR steal could be Georgia’s biggest loss “Probably a little more passing, I think Coley will bring a title bit more of that,” Hardman said after his pro day workout on Wednesday. “But they definitely are going to run the ball. “You got Swift back, Zamir (White) coming back from injury , (James) Cook here, and they just signed another running back, so it’s going to be a similar offense, we’ll play our brand of football, but probably a little bit more finesse, a little bit more passing there was well. I’m excited for Coley, I know he’s gong to do big things.” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Tuesday the updated definition of “balance” has less to do with run-pass ratio and more to do with the ability to do both effectively. “People think balance means 50/50 — balance is not 50/50,” Smart said. “Balance is being able to run the ball when you have to run the ball and being able to throw the ball when you have to throw the ball. “So can you do both? Yes, you can be successful at both. That might be 70-30 one game and then 30-70 the other way the next game.” Georgia TE Charlie Woerner   The post Georgia TE Charlie Woerner: James Coley ‘likes to throw more than (Jim) Chaney’ appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Georgia has updated its roster to include all of the early enrollees football numbers with the Bulldogs this spring. The numbers are as follows: 2 QB D’Wan Mathis 4 LB Nolan Smith 7 DB Tyrique Stevenson 11 LB Jermaine Johnson 12 LB Rian Davis 13 QB Stetson Bennett 14 DB DJ Daniel 15 LB Trezmen Marshall 16 DB Lewis Cine 17 LB Nakobe Dean 60 OL Clay Webb 70 OL Warren McClendon 88 TE Ryland Goede 90 DL Tramel Walthour To recap, there were also number changes since last season: RB James Cook: No. 4, previously No. 6 WR Matt Landers: No. 5, previously No. 15 S Otis Reese: No. 6, previously No. 17 CB Divaad Wilson: No. 8, previously No. 16 OLB Azeez Ojulari: No. 13, previously No. 38 OLB Adam Anderson: No. 19. previously was No. 56 The post Complete Georgia football early enrollee roster numbers appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Georgia redshirt junior Ben Cleveland was back running with the first team at right guard during Thursday’s limited media window of observation. The Bulldogs’ offensive linemen looked to have noticeably better body builds than their counterparts on defense, more than one of which appeared to have a weighty issue. Indeed, there’s a reason why some believe Georgia has the best O-Line in the country. As expected, the players working first team were: LT Andrew Thomas, LG Solomon Kindley, C Trey Hill, RG Cleveland, RT Isaiah Wilson. If there was a surprise in the depth chart, it was seeing Jamaree Salyer working as the backup right tackle with Cade Mays tucked inside at right guard. Offensive line coach is likely doing that to build depth at tackle, as Mays would surely be the first man in at either of the offensive tackle positions should a starter go down. Clay Webb appeared to be the No. 2 center, while Justin Shaffer was No. 2 at left guard and D’Marcus Hayes was No. 2 at left tackle for the purposes of drills. RB observations The most impressive physical transformation appeared to be Brian Herrien, who looked every bit the part of the power back Georgia will need him to be. Herrien, the most impressive UGA back in the Sugar Bowl, is listed at 6-foot, 210 pounds but looked bigger. D’Andre Swift was running at the front of all the drills, while James Cook was No. 3 behind Herrien. DB observations New Georgia secondary coach Charlton Warren very loud and frenetic, chastising cornerbacks for “wasting too much time” when the next ups weren’t ready to go in drills. “We’ve got 8 minutes to get better, men!” he yelled. “Eight minutes. Now quit wasting time!” Junior Ameer Speed continues to work with cornerbacks. He had a cast on his left hand but it did not seem limit him at all. Former UGA QB in attendance Former Georgia QB Faton Bauta, now an assistant at Monmouth, was among coaches observing Thursday’s practice. The post Georgia offensive line looks the part, Brian Herrien built for power game appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart has said before he doesn’t think there are many secrets in college football. That’s probably why Smart opened up Tuesday practice to the Oregon coaching staff, according to OregonLive.com. The Ducks’ staff, led by former Alabama assistant Mario Cristobal, was in Tuscaloosa on Monday and Athens, Ga., on Tuesday to watch practice and visit with staff members. Smart was at Alabama as Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator for three seasons while Cristobal was there serving as the line coach. Georgia places heavy restrictions on the media presence at practice, even while opening up practice for the well-trained eyes of staff members they might ultimately face in the College Football Playoff or in a bowl game. That’s what happened in the Sugar Bowl, as Smart allowed Texas coach Tom Herman and his staff to attend the Bulldogs’ spring practices last year. “We took a trip out there this spring just to pick brains and talk shop a little bit,” Herman said leading up to the Longhorns’ 28-21 victory. Herman said when the Sugar Bowl matchup was announced that he didn’t see the Georgia run game as “anything too formidable.” The confident Texas coach proved correct against what was the SEC’s top rushing offense. The Bulldogs rushed for just   72 yards on 30 attempts after averaging 259.8 yards per game. Smart said his new offensive coordinator, James Coley, has been working to improve the offense and talked with other coaches. Chances are, Coley spoke with Cristobal about what the Ducks do on offense in addition to visiting other programs that Smart chose not to name. “We’ve been working on us and saying, okay, what can we do better, and I think James brings a lot of that to the table,” Smart said on Tuesday. “They’ve gone and visited with a lot of people to get new ideas.” The post One year after opening practice to Texas, Georgia allows Oregon to observe appeared first on DawgNation.