Allen leading the way for Dawgs

ATHENS – Asher Allen is going to be a busy man during preseason camp.

The junior cornerback and third-year starter will be acting as a mentor to his younger teammates, working on his normal drills in the secondary, plus practicing both punt and kick return duties.

Allen loves the busy schedule, but at least one of those jobs will belong to someone else once the season kicks off, according to head coach Mark Richt.

"Asher's capable of punt return and kick return, but I doubt he'll do both," Richt said. "He'll practice both and be prepared to do both, but I don't think he'll be the starter at both. I'm not sure which one of those two he'll do actually."

The choice for the coaching staff might seem obvious. Allen returned 28 kicks last season for a school record 690 yards, so he would be a clear choice to fill the same role this year.

With Mikey Henderson, last year's game-breaking punt returner, gone this season, however, Allen could make the switch, depending on how quickly some of the younger return men develop.

A deep corps of returners also could give Allen some extra rest, which would be good news for the secondary.

Allen may love making plays on special teams, but at just 5-foot-10, 198 pounds, returning punts and kicks might not be the safest way for Georgia's top cornerback to spend his free time.

"You've got 11 people coming down there full speed, they've got a head of steam, and I'm running full speed also but I really try not to get a solid hit on me," Allen said. "But obviously there is a danger. Somebody may miss a block or may not block as well, and they're coming full speed, you're going full speed, and I'm not the biggest guy."

Other than Allen, Richt pointed to senior Ramarcus Brown, who returned two kicks for 123 yards last season, as a strong contender for similar duties this year. Other candidates for the job include sophomore receiver Tony Wilson and sophomore safety Reshad Jones, both of whom have some experience returning punts.

"Guys like those, at least we feel like can secure the ball," Richt said. "That's No. 1. And then you want someone who can make people miss and go the distance."

There are also a handful of freshmen who could fend off a redshirt season by excelling in the return game, too. Richt said his young running backs – Carlton Thomas and Richard Samuel – might both be productive special teams players, which he considered a good reason to use up a year of their eligibility, despite a potentially minimal role on offense.

"Carlton Thomas is going to get a chance. I think he'd be good at either (punt or kick returns)," Richt said. "I think Richard Samuel is probably a very outstanding candidate for kickoff return, I don't think he's a punt return guy necessarily."

Thomas said he would relish the chance to get on the field any way possible.

He has spent the first few days of practice working with assistant coach Jon Fabris on returning punts.

The job, Thomas said, is a bit different than it was in high school, but he said his natural abilities make it a role he can adapt to quickly.

"I can use my speed and my vision, making something happen," said Thomas, who also ran track in high school, "setting up blocks and making the big play."

For now, however, the only one with a secure job is Allen, and even he won't say which job he thinks he'll land.

"I really don't have a preference, as long as I get that ball," Allen said. "That ball feels good, I'm not gonna lie."

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