McGee: Kicking Game No Cause For Concern

If the 2005 football season began today, senior Richmond McGee would be Texas' starting punter. And Texas' starting FG kicker. And Texas' starting place kicker. He is convinced the Longhorn kicking game is in good hands. Or, in this case, in good feet.

But has McGee actually elevated his game that much? Or, does his lofty status in all three facets underscore what many Horn fans fear -- the kicking game is still not performing at a championship level?

Head coach Mack Brown speaks almost every day about the improvement he sees on special teams, particularly on kickoff coverage. But what he hasn't seen is either Greg Johnson or David Pino step up and nail down the job as Texas' FG kicker in the post-Dusty Mangum era. So, for the first time in his career, McGee is handling all three aspects of the kicking game.

That's part of the reason why Brown said (just before Saturday's scrimmage) that special teams are his biggest concern heading into the Sept. 3 home opener. There are nine regular season games on the schedule that should not (repeat: should not) be decided on special teams play. But there are plenty of Horn fans who have already imagined Texas outplaying Ohio State and Oklahoma on both sides of the ball -- and then dropping one or both of those games on shoddy special teams play. And so I asked McGee what he would say to fans who share Brown's concern about the kicking game.

"I don't think there's reason to be concerned," McGee said. "We have so much depth. We've got Greg Johnson and Trevor Gerland back there punting. We've got three solid punters. And it's that way with field goals, also. We've got me, (David) Pino and Greg Johnson. Trevor can kick if he has to. We've got so much depth and I think we're all capable of doing it. It's just who Coach Brown wants to put out there. I don't think there's any reason to be concerned at all."

Johnson (sore ankle) and Pino (pulled muscle) are both nursing nagging injuries. (Johnson's ankle kept him out of Monday morning's practice.) It's time for them to get well, Brown said, and make their move if they want to displace McGee.

"We're going to put the best guy at each position in there," Brown said. "Right now, Richmond would be the guy. Greg Johnson has been doing really well. We would like to see him get more work."

McGee handled Texas' kickoffs as a RS-freshman in 2002 and then added punting duties to his resume in 2003 and 2004. He contributed a generally solid, but relatively unspectacular, season last fall by averaging 39.7 yards on 49 punts (with 11 punts inside the 20). He kicked off 75 times in 2004, including 28 touchbacks. McGee was not particularly surprised that he is currently atop the depth charts at all three spots in the kicking game.

"I knew I would be in the mix but I didn't know how seriously Coach Brown would look at me, or if he would want me doing all three," he said. "I knew it was a possibility. I look forward to kicking my best out here and seeing what happens."

Pino is a fifth-year senior who could never quite dethrone Mangum. He has appeared in 17 career games and is 17-of-18 on PATs. He made the most of his two career starts, subbing for the injured Mangum at the end of the 2003 season, by knocking down all three FG attempts in games against Texas A&M and Washington State.

"David has always been real solid," McGee said. "I've always enjoyed watching him kick. I just think he can be great if Coach Brown puts him out there."

Johnson is a former Freshman All-American transfer from Vanderbilt (2002) who ranked fifth nationally with an average 43.8 yards-per-punt. He connected on 8-of-13 FG attempts (61.5 percent) with a long of 46 yards, leading Brown to offer a rare special teams scholarship. (McGee was placed on scholarship last August.)

Johnson sat out his transfer season (2003) before averaging 37.5 yards on four punts (two against North Texas, two against Baylor) in 2004, placing two inside the 20.

"Greg has had a lot of improvement since he's been here," McGee continued. "He used to be a three-step punter. Now he's gotten it down to two steps. He's getting his punts off real fast. His hands have gotten so much better. He's gotten real consistent at punting."

Brown admitted that he fielded some questions from fans about kickoff coverage after Ramonce Taylor took the opening kick 94 yards to the house to open Saturday's scrimmage. RT went the distance against third-teamers on Saturday but practiced returning kicks against the Ones on Monday.

"We went best-against-best today," Brown said. "We've taught the kicking game enough that it's time now to put them against more experienced players. We had really good kicking game work today."

So, how did RT does against real talent?

"He didn't score," Brown said. "But if you're working against yourself, if you're the head coach, you're mad at one of the two groups. They had good kickoff returns today."

One of the age-old questions regarding special teams concerns the extent to which a coach involves his most talented players (i.e., starters) in the kicking game. Do you risk an injury to, say, Selvin Young by leaving him as a punt return specialist? Or do you put yourself in a position such as, say, the Rose Bowl where Brown reported that "backups to backups" were on the kickoff coverage team?

Currently, there are six Longhorns starting on all four special teams units. Who are they? Brown said he couldn't recall "off the top of my head." He added that he would discuss all depth-chart decisions at Monday's inaugural press luncheon of the 2005 season.

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