Georgia Tech special-teams coordinator Ray Rychleski has a weapon in returner Jamal Golden. The All-ACC safety has averaged 25.9 yards per kickoff return in his career, which is first in school history. He has proven himself as a punt returner, also, ranking sixth in the country in 2012 with a 14.6 yards-per-return average.
“I have confidence in guys that make plays,” Rychleski said. “He makes plays. He’s a smart football player. Like I always say, can I trust you with the keys to my car? I trust Jamal with the keys to my car.”
That said, Rychleski likes Golden’s backups, and with Golden’s playing load at safety, may give some kickoff returns to freshman Marcus Marshall and senior Broderick Snoddy.
“Now, Jamal’s the starter, but we’ve got all three ready to go,” Rychleski said.
Redshirt freshman Qua Searcy is another option, but he tweaked his ankle and so Rychleski said he will hold him out of special teams.
Punt return will continue to be Golden’s domain, with backup support from freshman TaQuon Marshall.
All four players behind Golden – Marshall, Snoddy, Searcy and Marshall – bring a speed element to the position. Snoddy, of course, has set school records in the 60-meter dash.
Tobin in place for duty
Sean Tobin returns for his senior season, backed up by walk-on redshirt freshman Casey Wilson. Trevor Stroebel, who split the job with Tobin last year (Stroebel had place kicks and Tobin had punts), is out after back surgery over the summer but could return at some point this season.
“Sean, I’ve been very happy with him,” Rychleski said. “When I first got here, Sean wasn’t sure. He was more into other stuff. I said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get into football. To his credit, he did. And then he had great success last year. He wanted to come back for a fifth year, so I was thrilled.”
Tech punted just 32 times last season – all off the foot of Ryan Rodwell – the fewest in FBS, despite playing one more game than most teams. By comparison, Texas led the nation with 87 punts. Rodwell improved on his sky punting last season, landing 13 of his 32 punts inside the opposition 20, 41 percent. Sean Poole dropped a third of his 45 punts inside the 20 in 2013. Wil Baumann, N.C. State’s All-ACC punter in 2014, was 23 for 60 (38 percent). (I’m going to guess that Baumann took a greater percentage of his punts from deep inside his team’s territory than Rodwell.)
Unrelated, but, according to cfbstats.com, only one team averaged fewer punts per game going back to 2008 than Tech’s 2.3 last season. (Texas Tech in 2008, 2.0)
Goal for Butker
Rychleski liked that kicker Harrison Butker made two clutch kicks last season (Virginia Tech and Georgia) after missing big kicks against Georgia and Miami in 2013.
“He showed his toughness,” Rychleski said. “Now what we’ve got to do with Harrison is we’ve got to get his percentage up.”
Butker’s 61.1 percent (11 of 18) ranked 99th in the country, according to cfbstats.com. He was, however, phenomenal on kickoffs, with a 63.3 percent touchback rate, tied for 14th in the country.
Tech's 'utility player'
Linebacker and former walk-on Chase Alford is the only player who will line up on the main four special-teams units (kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return). Defensive end Tyler Stargel will be on three, as will first-year freshman linebacker Victor Alexander, at least for the time being. Alexander is subbing for Searcy on one of the teams against Alcorn State. Several players, including linebackers Tyler Marcordes, Brant Mitchell and Domonique Noble and defensive back Lawrence Austin, are on two each.
“Chase is just a value guy,” Rychleski said. “He’s one of those guys that you’re always trying to replace, but you’re scared to death to do it. In baseball, you kind of call it like a utility player. Plays every position, he hits good enough and then, all of the sudden, you’re in the playoffs. I’m high on Chase Alford. I’m happy that he got a scholarship.”
Two freshman linebackers showing up
Rychleski has liked what he has seen from the two first-year freshman linebackers, Mitchell and Alexander. He thinks of Mitchell as a bigger version of Alford and has appreciated the effort that Alexander has shown.
“He’s made freshman mistakes, but he’s a mile-a-minute guy,” Rychleski said of Alexander. “He’s got good talent. He wants to do it. Like he said to me, he says, ‘Coach, I didn’t come here to sit the bench.’”
Nealy faces Seahawks cut
NFL teams needed to be down to 75 players by Tuesday. Former Tech linebacker Quayshawn Nealy was waived by the Seahawks, who signed him as an undrafted free agent. Former Tech B-back Zach Laskey survived the cut to 75, as did former Tech safety Isaiah Johnson with Detroit. Both Laskey and Johnson were also undrafted free agents.
Baltimore cut three wide receivers, but not sixth-round pick Darren Waller, who has been a surprise in the Ravens’ camp and looks like he in position to make the team. San Francisco wide receiver DeAndre Smelter was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list Monday as he continues recovery from his torn ACL suffered in the Georgia game last November. It means he will be ineligible for the first six weeks of the regular season.
The final cutdown to 53 is Sept. 5, next Monday.
NFL cuts always make me think of this.
My colleague Chuck Kingsbury, a recent addition to the recruiting blog, has news of the brother of Tech guard Trey Braun becoming the Jackets’ ninth commitment on Sunday. He also had a post about a four-star linebacker from Brookwood High including Tech in his top five list.
Pantheon of heroes
A great photo of Tech great Bill Curry in Times Square, posted Sunday.
As he described it on his account, Curry was in New York for a speaking engagement for the American Football Coaches Association.