January 19, 2009

Looking ahead: Kicker

From a statistical standpoint, Georgia's Blair Walsh put up some respectable numbers for the Bulldogs in 2008.

The freshman converted 15 of 24 field goals and all 50 of his extra points, numbers that placed him fifth in the SEC in both the number of kicks made and percentage (65.2).

Unfortunately, as most Georgia fans can attest, that wasn't really the problem.

The Bulldogs' penchant for directional kicks when the wind wasn't in the team's favor proved to be an issue of consistency for Walsh, who like many kickers, also found it tough to adjust to the NCAA's new rule now forcing teams to kick off from the 30-yard line.

Former Georgia great Rex Robinson watched Walsh go through his trials with a discerning eye.

In an exclusive interview with UGASports, Robinson said he believes that Walsh's worries over the inconsistencies likely played a key role in some of the growing pains the Fort Lauderdale native endured.

"I think it (the year) wound up being less successful than he wanted it," Robinson said of Walsh. "I think he started off well field-goal wise, but he struggled from time to time with his kickoff and over time the type of adjustments he was having to make on his kickoffs may have crept into his thinking when kicking field goals and that hurt him a couple of weeks."

If there's one position on the football field where a player's conscious and subconscious mindset can be directly linked to an athlete's success or failure its kicker.

Much like a professional golfer whose confidence in swinging a club is built over years of experience, the way a kicker approaches his job is similar in many respects.

It's all about rhythm. It's all about technique. It's all about timing. When something happens to disrupt those aspects, trouble can set in.

"Up until this year he was able to do that because he had been doing the regular deep kickoffs all his life," Robinson said. "He'd been doing it for a long time and there was nothing to it. But 99 percent of people can't consistently kick it 75 or 80 yards every time, they can't do that."

Ironically, Walsh's issues with kickoffs weren't the first time this kind of thing has happened with the Bulldogs during Mark Richt's eight years as head coach.

During Billy Bennett's senior season in 2003, coaches hoped that Andy Bailey would be able to handle kickoffs to take some of the pressure off the Athens native.

That didn't happen. Bailey struggled with his kickoffs, leaving Bennett to handle the chores after all.

It wasn't that Walsh had never kicked off before. He certainly has.

However, when asked to execute directional kicks, Walsh scuffled, pushing a number out of bounds and causing some to wonder why Bulldog coaches just don't kick it straight down the field to avoid such penalties from occurring.

Robinson, who conducts kicking camps throughout the state, explained directional kicking is not as easy at it looks.

"In general, a lot was expected of him as an 19-year-old guy to do the specific things they wanted him to do on the kickoff and to be as precise a thing as they wanted him to be, especially being a smaller guy," Robinson said of the 175-pound Walsh. "I haven't gone to the extreme of doing a lot of research, but again, in general by watching other games through the years there have been very few guys who were asked to do the same thing and do exceedingly better."

Of course, that also begs the question: Why not simply kick the ball down the middle of the field?

Robinson said the answer to that is simple: The ball might get returned for a touchdown.

"That's Coach Fab's (kickoff coach Jon Fabris) worst nightmare. He's going to try and avoid that at all cost. That's the reason he chose not to go with just a regular deep kickoff," Robinson said. "What he's doing is taking the pressure off the coverage guys and put it on Blair and that's tough on a 19-year-old kid with his height and weight."

The key for Walsh, Robinson said, is for him to be able to overcome whatever mental block regarding directional kicks he may have.

Robinson, who has spoken with Walsh before, hopes to meet with him at a later date to see what he can do to help in that regard.

"You have to get past the subconsciousness of it in order for it to be second nature," Robinson said. "That's another aspect of what's probably contributing to him struggling and keeping him from being able to get that consistent effort to where it's not a subconscious thing so he can go out and just do it."

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