Georgia Tech special teams boosted by return of Ricky Brumfield

Georgia Tech special-teams coach Ricky Brumfield speaks to media members April 10, 2023, during his first spring practice with the Yellow Jackets. (Photo by Ken Sugiura/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ken Sugiura/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ken Sugiura/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia Tech special-teams coach Ricky Brumfield speaks to media members April 10, 2023, during his first spring practice with the Yellow Jackets. (Photo by Ken Sugiura/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

A perhaps overlooked development of Georgia Tech’s offseason, but a no less important one, was the retention of special teams coordinator Ricky Brumfield on the coaching staff.

Brumfield, who would begin his college playing career as a wide receiver at Utah State 30 years ago this fall, is in his second season directing Tech’s kicking and kick return games. He also added the title of associate head coach and the responsibility of working with Yellow Jacket cornerbacks as well.

“Just coming in and working hard for (Tech coach Brent Key) and him seeing that, it was, honestly, an honor to be able to get that,” Brumfield said of his promotion. “My future goal is I want to be a head coach. That’s gonna help in that process. For (Key) doing that I’m very appreciative of it, grateful of it and I’m not taking it lightly.

“I’m doing everything that I can to learn as much as I can from him, help him out as well. That’s what I tell coach, ‘I wanna try to take some things off of your plate.’ I don’t wanna just have a title and just kind of be here.”

In February, Brumfield interviewed with the Los Angeles Chargers for a role on their coaching staff. He remained in Atlanta instead for what will be his 14th straight season coaching in the college ranks.

Brumfield’s special teams units in 2023 blocked four kicks (third nationally) and a punt, ranked 30th nationally in kick returns and 42nd in punt returns. Brumfield has the luxury this spring of having kicker Aidan Birr (17-for-19 FG; 37-for-38 on extra points), kicker Gavin Stewart (44 touchbacks on 69 kickoffs), punter David Shanahan (42.8 average on 45 punts) and long snapper Henry Freer back on the roster.

Brumfield does, however, have to find a way to improve Tech’s kick return defense, which ranked nearly last in the nation at defending kickoffs (26.8 yards allowed per return) and the punt return defense, which ranked 10th among ACC teams.

“We obviously have to be better in a lot of different phases. Kickoff was the main one we need to work on the most. The second half of the season we just kinda started deteriorating for a lot of different reasons,” Brumfield said Monday after Tech’s fourth practice of the spring. “The previous year (2022) we went from 131st in the country overall (in special teams) to 42nd in the country overall. It was a major improvement overall, but we just need to be great throughout.

“And the thing that we didn’t do is we didn’t score touchdowns. I always in the past have scored touchdowns, whether it’s kick returns or punt returns. I wanna be able to, not just change field position, but I want to be able to score touchdowns. I want to be able to change the game completely. I think we can do better at that.”

In the return game, Brumfield said senior wide receiver Christian Leary (21 returns for 463 yards in 2023) and junior running back Jamal Haynes have been the primary choices for returning kickoffs this spring. Junior defensive back Rodney Shelley, who had three punt returns in the Gasparilla Bowl, is in line to replace Dominick Blaylock, who entered the NFL draft, at that spot.

So other than having a new man field punts, most of the main pieces remain for Brumfield. Seven of his top 10 players in terms of special teams snaps are back this spring and his six top tacklers (linebackers Kyle Efford and Jacob Cruz, tight end/wide receiver Avery Boyd, defensive backs Taye Seymore and Omar Daniels and running back Chad Alexander). Brumfield remaining should pay positive dividends as well.

“This will probably be the first year I’ve had the same special teams coordinator,” Shanahan said. “Knowing exactly what we’re going to be doing and having that, that’ll really help, I think, just to have that continuity. There’s always stuff to work on like consistency and directional stuff. We’re kind of implementing some more stuff in that we didn’t have last year, different kind of kicks to keep things interesting. There’s always stuff to keep improving in the whole operation.”