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Friday, October 3, 2008

Catching Up With... Eric Zeier

Georgia fans are still coming to grips with the retirement of Larry Munson, but another Georgia legend -- former quarterback Eric Zeier -- is keeping Munson's love of the Bulldogs alive as the color analyst for games. He also can be heard on "The Tailgate Show" with Loran Smith and Neil "Hondo" Williams. Zeier starred at Georgia during the early 1990s and played for five seasons in the NFL.

I caught up with Eric earlier this week to discuss the Bulldogs' tough loss to Alabama, the upcoming matchup against Tennessee and the pro prospects of Georgia's current star quarterback.

David Hale: From your days as a player, would you prefer to have an off week like Georgia does after a tough loss or would you rather get right back on the field?

Eric Zeier: Typically I think after losing a game, the last thing you want is a bye week because you want to get back on the field, go play and erase those thoughts from your head as quickly as possible. In this case though, I think a bye week is actually pretty good. We've been hit relatively hard by injuries the first part of the year, so giving us a chance to heal up and rest up as we get going into what remains of an unbelievably tough schedule is a good thing right now. Lay on top of that that we had just come back from Arizona State, that trip back, any time that you travel, it's not the week that you travel and the game that you travel to, it's always the following week that catches up to you a little bit. So just having the chance to recoup, rest and heal up a little bit as we move into the next portion of our season is a positive thing.

DH: You talked about the trip to Arizona, and I think that's been something that wasn't really mentioned much after the Alabama loss. Do you think the after effects of that trip had anything to do with how bad the Bulldogs looked in the first half last week?

EZ: I'm sure it had some effect, it always does, but take nothing away from Alabama. That was an extremely good football team. It's not like we came out and didn't play well against a team that should not have beat us. That Alabama team deserved undoubtedly the No. 2 ranking that they hold right now. They are very good. But if you go back, when I took a look at the season, one of my concerns was that Alabama game, not knowing how good they would be at the time, just because we were traveling back from going out west. As a former player, that's when it always caught up with me. You're not physically tired from that trip, but everything is thrown off just a little bit. You get back at 7:30 in the morning, so your routine is thrown off a little bit. You're still kind of recovering from that and the entire routine is thrown off. As athletes, you're creatures of habit. We like to be in that routine, so that's where it affects you.

DH: I think most people agree Alabama was clearly the better team during that game, but where the Tide really made their mark was at the line of scrimmage. There was obviously some concern even going into that game about Georgia's young offensive line and the lack of the pass rush, and Alabama really exploited that. Do you see this as something that can be a quick fix for the Dawgs or is it just going to be an ongoing issue this season?

EZ: I would agree that Alabama won that football game in the trenches, but we helped some, too, with some penalties -- especially in that first half where we let them get off to a very quick start that we couldn't recover from. Ultimately that game was won by Alabama in the trenches. I've heard all the talk and the concern about where we are up front. My opinion is that we played very well up to that point, we played very well in the second half of that football game, scoring 30 points. I still like where we are. I really like this football team. Is there room for improvement in those areas? Absolutely there is, but that's always going to be the case that you want to see improvement and want to get better in those areas. But for the most part, I think the offensive line has played very well. The interior of our defensive line has gotten a good push throughout most of the year. Defensive ends, on the outside, we could see some improvement on that end, but across the board our defense has played very good football this year. We just happened to run into a team that is very talented, and in that first half, did not make a mistake in the way they handled the football and ran their game plan."

DH: Those penalties definitely had an impact on the game, and it seems to be a big problem for Georgia recently. In looking at the numbers, the run of flags goes back to that on-field celebration in Florida. Since that game, Georgia's penalties have nearly doubled. Do you think there's a connection there? If not, what do you think the problem is?

EZ: I've heard that question asked several times, and those numbers don't lie. So it's real that we have an issue with some of the penalties that we're taking on. I would really go back to, so many of these penalties that we are having are just mental mistakes. They're not vicious, they're not penalties where we've changed the whole demeanor of how we play or we're out trying to play dirty. It's bumping a quarterback, but you get your hands in his face a little bit or a procedure penalty here and there. It's getting to the quarterback in not quite enough time but not pulling off. I tend to look at it more as some mental discipline where we're just putting ourselves in those situations and not really playing sound, fundamental football in those areas. I fully expect that after this off week it's going to be more of a focus for our guys, and we'll start to see those come down dramatically.

DH: Looking ahead, Georgia's next game is against a Tennessee team that has struggled this season but really embarrassed the Dawgs in Knoxville last season. What do you think the keys are for Georgia to get back to playing winning football against the Volunteers?

EZ: First off all, Tennessee is still a really good football team. If you go back to last year, their struggles probably weren't quite what we're seeing this year from them. But there was so much talk last year when we went to Knoxville to play them around, is Phil Fulmer's job safe, is he fit to lead the team. The next thing you know, we get a beating put on us in the first half that was very similar to what Alabama did to us. So you know this is a very dangerous football team. They've got a tremendous amount of talent. Right now they are struggling. They don't know who their quarterback is right now, so they're undecided there. They go out to UCLA and get beat by a UCLA team that follows that up by just getting crushed by BYU. So this is a team that's wounded, but that's a dangerous football team with the kind of talent they do have. And if there's one thing that Phillip Fulmer has shown, it's that when he gets backed up against the wall, his team is coming out and playing extremely hard. I think that's what we're going to see, so it's not a rollover game by any stretch of the imagination. It's a team we've struggled with over the past couple of years. But what I really want to see from us is just being mentally sharp and being ready to go play. Eliminate some of those penalties that have taken plays, really get focused in on being physical and dominant up front on both lines -- because we've got all the talent in the world. We've played very solid football up to this point in the year, notwithstanding that Alabama game where in the first half they put it to us. But if we can get focused in on what we need to do which is getting rid of some of those penalties and playing at a very high level of physical football, we'll be just fine.

DH: As someone who had a standout career in college and played several years in the NFL, you're in a unique position to judge the future prospects of Matthew Stafford. People like Mel Kiper have him listed as the top NFL prospect in college, but what kind of a pro quarterback do you think he'll be?

EZ: Let me answer that in two ways. First of all, from a physical talent perspective, he has the physical talent to play at the next level, I don't think there's any question about that. He's got a super strong arm, he's big, he can run, he can move, he understands the game of football. He's been underneath Coach Richt and Coach Bobo, and he has had two very, very good coaches tutoring him over the past several years. So he is going to be ready to play. But as far as the success you have, so much of that depends on getting drafted into a system that is the right fit for you, where you'll have some consistency, where you're not rushed in too quickly, and you have a chance to learn, because the game is different. But so long as he gets put in the right position, he can be very good because he has all of the tools. If you find yourself in a system that doesn't necessarily match your talents, there can be some struggle there. We've seen it across all spectrums where you've got the Peyton Mannings and the Ryan Leafs. One turns into a Hall-of-Fame-type quarterback, and the other only lasts a couple years because he can't handle the situation or the stress that they are put under. So a lot of that is where Matthew ends up going. But does he have the talent and the ability to play at the next level? I don't think there's any question.

DH: I wanted to ask you about Larry Munson. Obviously Georgia fans everywhere are sad to see him go, but what are some of your best memories of Larry, both as a player and now having worked with him in the booth?

EZ: My first memory of Georgia football is actually of Larry. I'd just moved back here from Germany, and I was actually driving in my car on a Saturday when the Dawgs were playing. I turned on my radio, and there's Larry. There's none better than Larry. He's an iconic figure at the university, and once you've listened to a game that he's called, it's tough to ever think about the Dawgs being called by anyone else. It's just what you naturally relate to as a fan. That's what hit me first and foremost. As a player, you're out playing so you don't really get a chance to hear his calls or what's going on while you're there at school. My big memories are as a fan. Even as I've had an unbelievable opportunity to work with him over the past couple of years, it remains that. Almost as many people look at some of the players in a little bit of awe, that's the way I approach Larry. It's just been an awful lot of fun to work with him, and he's never going to be replaced. He's going to be the voice of the Dawgs and will never be forgotten. To have a chance to work with him for a brief period of time was an awesome experience for me.

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