One of the many challenges facing new Georgia coach Kirby Smart this spring is who actually will put foot to ball.
The Bulldogs signed kicker Marshall Morgan and punter Collin Barber in their 2012 recruiting class, with Morgan compiling 407 points the past four seasons to finish third on the Southeastern Conference's all-time scoring list. Barber set Georgia's single-season net punting record as a sophomore with a 42.6-yard average and played in 46 career contests, but their departures have left the Bulldogs without a single scholarship kicker for the upcoming 15 workouts.
"It's a little scary coming in," Smart said last month. "We don't have a punter, and we don't have a returning snapper who has started. We also don't have a field-goal kicker, so that's a little overwhelming."
The Bulldogs are scheduled to start spring practice March 15, with their G-Day game set for April 16. Georgia's special teams will be coordinated by tight ends coach Shane Beamer, the son of former Virginia Tech head coach and legendary special teams guru Frank Beamer.
Last month the Bulldogs signed Marshall Long, a 6-foot, 223-pound punter from China Grove, N.C. Long averaged 46.5 yards per punt as a South Rowan High School senior, but he won't arrive until the summer.
"In my history, I've found that you can find more quality kickers through the walk-on route than you can at punter," Smart said. "After sitting down and sharing ideas with people in the NFL and the college level, we felt like as a staff that it would be harder to manufacture punting than it would be place-kicking. We felt it was the right route to go ahead and offer (a scholarship to) a punter who we felt was very reputable and is held in high regard across the country.
"We feel like he can fill a void for four years and be a really good one."
Smart and Beamer have not said whether they will allow Brice Ramsey, last season's backup quarterback, to continue serving as a punter this spring. Ramsey took over as the primary punter last year against Florida, which relegated Barber to a pooch-kick role the rest of the season.
Ramsey averaged 47.7 yards on three punts against Kentucky and had a 58-yard attempt roll dead at the 1 against Georgia Southern.
"Having a dual role on the field has been fun and exciting," Ramsey said in November. "I'm just trying to bring life to the team in whatever way."
Vying for the place-kicking job this spring will be a pair of in-state walk-ons: redshirt freshman Rodrigo Blankenship of Marietta and redshirt sophomore William Ham of Macon. They could be joined this summer by Mitchell Wasson of Marietta, who had been pledged to become a preferred walk-on at Alabama but is now considering Georgia.
"As far as a field-goal kicker, we want to find out what we have here in the spring," Smart said. "We really don't know as a staff exactly what we've got, so we'll find that out. We'll also try to get some guys in here whether by transfer or by way of preferred walk-on to make that a competitive environment."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.