ATHENS, GA - SEPTEMBER 10: Branden Smith #1 of the Georgia Bulldogs receives a punt by the South Carolina Gamecocks at Sanford Stadium on September 10, 2011 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
After a couple really good years for Georgia's special teams, it's back to square one, and a couple true freshmen will be expected to jump in right away.
The majority of the questions facing the Dawgs in 2012 center on the offensive line, but it's important to remember just how big a hit they've taken on special teams. Punter Drew Butler, a Ray Guy Award winner: graduated, and don't be surprised if an NFL team spends a late draft pick on him. Return man Brandon Boykin, who ranks second in SEC history in kickoff return yards: also graduated, and also destined for the pros. Even Blair Walsh, who disappointed in a frustrating senior season, departs with both the UGA and the SEC records for career points scored.
So if you looked over Georgia's last two recruiting classes and were scratching your head at why Mark Richt would give scholarships to specialists, there's your answer. The kickers Richt included in the "Dream Teams" of the last couple years will be expected to take the field and make an immediate impact in 2012.
Lindley has been on the roster since 2008 and made a successful on-side kick against Alabama that year, but he hasn't attempted a field goal in anything other than a G-Day game. Morgan, whom the Dawgs recruited out of the Miami area earlier this year, is the one who will be expected to assume the starting role from the moment he arrives on campus.
Here again, Georgia will be depending on a true freshman without much of a safety net -- the three guys behind him are all walk-ons who have never punted in an actual game.
1. Branden Smith, Sr. (5'11", 176)
2. Sanders Commings, Sr. (6'2", 217)
With Boykin gone to the NFL, possibly as a first-rounder, Branden Smith becomes the No. 1 return man on the Dawgs' roster. Problem is he's likely to get suspended for a couple of games at the start of the season thanks to his marijuana arrest in Alabama last month, so expect a lot of the team's best athletes to get some reps on special teams this spring. Damian Swann, who played extensively on special teams in high school, will be at the top of that list; Justin Scott-Wesley, a state track champion who redshirted last year, could figure into the mix as well. Malcolm Mitchell may get a chance to show off his speed at both PR and KR once the season starts, but as for this spring, he'll likely have his hands full mastering his new fill-in assignment at cornerback.
Frix, a veteran who's handled just about every long snap the Dawgs have taken over the last three seasons, is all but assured of keeping his starting job. Still, expect to see Theus, the older brother of 2012 O-line recruit John Theus, to get some reps during spring.
Rookie prospects: We already know Collin Barber and Marshall Morgan will be expected to fill starting roles right away, but there's another intriguing special-teams prospect in Sheldon Dawson (5'11", 178), the four-star defensive back Georgia flipped from his commitment to Memphis a few days before National Signing Day. Ranked as the consensus No. 1 prospect in the state of Tennessee, Dawson has 4.4 speed and has been described as a near physical match for Brandon Boykin by both his high-school and his new college coaches. Considering the Dawgs' sudden lack of depth at defensive back and kick returner -- particularly with suspensions hanging over the heads of several top veterans -- it's unlikely that Dawson will redshirt, as the need for his skill set is too great.