Up until last year I, like every other football fan outside of Virginia Tech, did not acknowledge that special teams existed. Pressley Harvin the 3rd, praise be to his thicc-ness, started to change my opinion on the matter. So I signed up to talk about special teams without realizing I had signed up to talk about our returners instead of our actual kickers. So I’m back to talking about something I know little to nothing about. But enough about me, lets talk about our kick returners.
After doing some research, Georgia Tech was mediocre at returning kicks last year. We averaged 19.19 yards per return with 21 total Kick-off returns last year. Our main Kick-off returner was Jahmyr Gibbs (a talented running back you may have heard of), who totaled 205 yards on his returns. Given how talented Gibbs is, to me this would indicate that the problem is associated with our blocking more than our returners. On punts we were even worse, averaging 4.06 yards on 16 returns per the NCAA website. Our main Punt Returner in Marquez Ezzard actually did better than the team average, scraping together an average of 8.6 yards per return. Sadly I think most can agree this was not enough to make a significant impact on most games.
As stated above last year we used Jahmyr Gibbs as our main kick returner. Gibbs is still listed as the starting returner, but given that he is also our star running back, it may be a good idea for coach Collins to find someone else to fill that role to avoid risking injury. The secondary kick returner is listed as Dontae Smith, a red shirt sophomore who has had success returning kicks. In 2020 Dontae accumulated 176 kick return yards on the season, which was not bad overall. At the moment no other returners are listed by Georgia Tech, but I think we could see a young receiver get a shot if Collins gets worried about the potential of Gibbs getting injured on a kick-off return.
I was unable to find much on blockers for kick returns since, again, special teams doesn’t actually exist according to most people. We should be looking at some more experienced members across the O-line, which hopefully means we will also have more experienced blockers in the return game. If our blockers can learn the kick off return positions we might seem some more explosive plays out of our kick return team.
The current depth chart projection for the starting punt returner is Nate McCollum, a freshman from Dutchtown High School in McDonough, Georgia. I didn’t see much in his highlight reel about his punt return ability (although I did find out that Dutchtown has an atrocious color scheme). Without much to work off of, I will say that it looks like Nate has good hands. While it would certainly be a plus to have a punt returner who might score us a touchdown, for Georgia Tech the majority of the job is to just avoid fumbling on punt returns. If Nate can manage holding onto the ball, then I’ll be happy.
Returners are a hard thing to predict, in part because there is so much chaos in the return game. You don’t necessarily know who will get the ball or if a missed block will lead to a big hit which costs you possession. Going off the numbers from last year I don’t expect any miraculous changes with us scoring on multiple kick returns. If you’re a fan just accept that the focus will be to take what few yards we can get and then avoid injuries or turnovers. I hate to be a bummer at the end of the position previews, but the TL:DR is I don’t expect much out of our return game and the fans shouldn’t either. Expect Georgia Tech to try and hold onto the ball on returns and let the offense do its thing.