Fabris wants Special teams better

ATHENS – Georgia blocked a punt, returned another for a touchdown, allowed just 14 yards per kick return and didn't miss a field goal or extra point against Georgia Southern.

Still, assistant coach Jon Fabris isn't satisfied.

"It's not what I want it to be," he said. "We're just not very good fundamentally."

And Fabris is the assistant coach responsible for punt return and block, the unit that did fantastically by head coach Mark Richt's estimation. David Pollack blocked the Eagles' first punt of the game, and Tyson Browning returned the first punt of the second half for a 72-yard touchdown, earning himself SEC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.

"That particular unit did awesome," Richt said. "That's a very tough combination when teams look at our tape. Usually, you look at a tape and say, ‘They're a team that comes after you,' or, ‘They're going to try to return it.'

"You usually don't find teams that do both very well and here we are in the first game of the year with a block and a touchdown. It's just tough to prepare for us after seeing that."

Special teams' play was an emphasis for Richt this year. After a 2002 season in which they blocked nine kicks and turned that into 40 points, the Bulldogs blocked seven kicks in 2003 and got just 17 points out of it. They were also last in the SEC in kickoff returns, eighth in punting and sixth in kickoff coverage.

"I think we definitely fell off last year," Browning said. "We're definitely putting more emphasis on it this year."

The No. 3 Bulldogs (1-0), who use all nine assistant coaches to coordinator different areas of special teams, play at South Carolina (1-0, 1-0 SEC) Saturday at 5:30 p.m. in Williams-Brice Stadium.

The amount of injuries and suspensions the Bulldogs endured last year were a factor in their drop in production, Richt said.

"It kind of bled into special teams," he said.

The bleeding was more than superficial, according to Fabris.

"It's a trickle-down effect," he said. "Injuries and suspensions … affect special teams worst because that is the first team that suffers."

The reason for that is, once players become starters on offense or defense, they are pulled from all but one or two special teams unit. That means as soon as an injury forces a player to step into a starting role, the special teams coaches have to fill two or three spots that person was playing on special teams with players who have virtually no experience.

"You develop players and then … your offensive and defensive coaches come take them from you," Fabris said.

It has already affected this year's team, Fabris said. Freshman running back Danny Ware, who replaced the injured Kregg Lumpkin as Georgia's starting tailback, worked all spring on the kickoff coverage and punt return and block teams.

"As soon as Kregg got hurt, I knew it was, ‘See you later, Danny,'" Fabris said. "And I'll never see him again. All that work in the spring, down the tubes."

The same thing happened last year with Tony Taylor, Fabris said. Taylor spent most of his freshman year learning his way on the special teams unit. By the end of the season, he had figured it all out and was becoming a very valuable special teams player. Of course, he was also becoming a better defensive player, and, by 2003, he was a starting linebacker. Players like Taylor and Ware are perfect for special teams because they have the right combination of size and speed, Fabris said.

"We don't have enough of safeties, linebackers, those body types," he said. "Everybody is fighting over those same few bodies and those few bodies can't do everything."

So far, though, they're doing pretty well for the Bulldogs.

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