Despite appearances, Georgia is not ordering punt returner Dominick Blaylock to fair-catch every punt.
In six games this season, the Bulldogs have returned only 11 punts. They’re average on those returns is actually decent at 14.3 yards, which stands sixth in the SEC.
But Georgia has done very little in the return game of late. The freshman Blaylock took over after senior Tyler Simmons muffed a punt inside the 5-yard line against Notre Dame. Blaylock has one return for six yards since then. He had none Saturday despite South Carolina punting seven times.
On at least a few of those, it looked like Blaylock had some room to roam.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said, “we don’t do that” when asked this week if Blaylock was ordered to fair-catch everything. But he said circumstances did dictate it a few times against the Gamecocks.
“We had several of them that we were in safe the other day where he’s not protected, meaning we’re not holding people up for him, so he can’t just abandon it and try to return it on his own,” Smart said.
“So we weren't able to set up a lot of returns. … There were a lot of times that they were in the 50-yard-line range that they’re in fake mode, and we want to be as safe as we can to get possession of the ball. That had a lot with Dom having to fair-catch it. It's not a matter of him wanting to.”
Regardless, the Bulldogs’ return game isn’t what it has been. Simmons had a 42-yard return against Murray State and was averaging 16.8 yards a return before the muff. But that’s still behind last year’s pace set by Mecole Hardman, who led the SEC with a 20.1-yard average and had one TD return. Along with Ahkil Crumpton, Eric Stokes and Terry Godwin, Georgia averaged 16.3 yards per return last season.
Earlier this year, Smart said that Blaylock is a very capable punt returner and it was one of the reasons the 5-star receiver prospect was a recruiting priority for the Bulldogs. Redshirt freshman Kearis Jackson opened the season as Georgia’s punt returner, but broke his left hand in the opener and has not returned punts since. Receiver Demetris Robertson also fields punts in practice.
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