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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Football Notes (1/25)

Georgia's wide receivers and running backs are both adjusting to life under new position coaches this offseason, and while the contact has been minimal as the coaching staff hones in on recruiting, the early reviews from players at both positions are positive.

Longtime Bulldogs wide receivers coach John Eason has moved to an administrative position, moving Tony Ball from running backs to Eason's vacated role. The transition has been smooth, wide receiver Tony Wilson said, but admitted there's definitely a new atmosphere in the meeting room.

"It's more of a football meeting room now," Wilson said. "Coach Eason dealt with football, but he was always talking about life. Coach Ball is on the same thing, but it's a different approach. You just hear Coach Ball more than you were going to hear Coach Eason. Coach Eason was kind of laid back and would let you flatten out your errors on your own. Coach Ball may jump you here and there."

With Ball heading up the receivers meetings now, the role of running backs coach belongs to Bryan McClendon, who is just three years removed from playing at Georgia. McClendon spent the past two years working with the receivers as a graduate assistant, and has quickly implemented a tough-minded approach in new role with the Bulldogs' running game.

"I've seen how he worked with the wide receivers, and I know he's going to be a tough coach," tailback Caleb King said. "I believe that's what we need in the running back position. One day he went downstairs in the weight room and trained with me and was killing me, so I believe he's going to be like that the whole year."

Of course, if King or the other running backs have any trouble, they won't have to go far to seek an extra bit of advice from their former mentor.

"(Ball) said if I have a problem or any troubles, I can come to his office and he'll still talk to me," King said. "I'm glad he's still close."

A few other quotes on the coaching changes...

King on having such a young coach...
"I like that because he can relate to being a student-athlete. He understands all you have to do both on the field and off the field. But at the same time I think he has enough knowledge to guide me through what I have to do."

Richard Samuel on working with McClendon...
"It's been good working with him. He comes in the weight room and makes sure we're staying on top of things. When I found out they were making the change, I wasn't too worried. He's been around, and I've gotten to know him, and he's a good coach. And it makes it easier knowing that Coach Ball is still around."

Wilson on Ball...
"I played for Coach Ball on multiple special teams. He's a fundamentally sound guy. He believes that's going to get the job done. When the game gets tough and everything breaks down, you've got to have good technique. You're going to get tired, everybody knows that. Your legs are going to give out once in a while. You aren't going to make every play. But whoever's technique is better is going to win the game."

Wilson on the change...
"Coach Eason was an older guy and he did more talking. Coach Ball is more of a show-me guy, just like Bryan McClendon. The only thing that's really going to change is intensity."

-- With seniors Mohamed Massaquoi, Demiko Goodman and Kenneth Harris all gone, junior receiver Tony Wilson knows his 2009 season will need to be a lot more productive than 2008 was.

Wilson suffered an ankle injury in spring practice last year that never fully healed. He gutted out five games during the season, but mustered just one catch for two yards before undergoing surgery that ended his season.

Although he doesn't expect to be a full participant in this year's spring practice, he said he's finally starting to feel healthy again.

"It's feeling wonderful," Wilson said. "I'm feeling probably 60, 75 percent. We're taking it slow right now, just progressing back into slow running, getting my stride back and getting good upper body workouts."

Now in his fourth season at Georgia, the vocal Wilson expects a more significant role for himself both on and off the field this season.

Georgia's departing seniors along with running back Knowshon Moreno who entered the NFL draft accounted for 49 percent of the Bulldogs' receptions in 2008, and Wilson hopes a healthy ankle will allow him to pick up some of that slack. More importantly, however, he said the task of replacing the senior leadership of players like Massaquoi and Harris will be a priority for him.

"It's my turn to step up and be the leader for that group," Wilson said. "It's my time to step up and lead those boys."

Even if Wilson is fully recovered in time for fall camp, the Bulldogs could open with as few as six scholarship wide receivers, a far cry from the depth chart of nine or 10 that head coach Mark Richt generally likes to have at his disposal. Florida recruit Rontavious Wooten has verbally committed to Georgia, but the school hopes to land at least one or two more receivers to join Wilson, A.J. Green, Tavarres King, Michael Moore, Kris Durham and Israel Troupe on the depth chart.

"Depth is important, and that played a big role last year," Wilson said. "I hope we get some more commitments. I think the depth is important, but if we have to go out and play with six or seven, I know we can handle it."

-- Georgia put plenty of true freshmen under the spotlight in 2008, but perhaps none faced more pressure in his rookie campaign than kicker Blair Walsh.

While Walsh had his ups and downs including missing two first-half field goals against Florida and struggling on kickoffs throughout the season he said his psyche remains intact. Walsh ended the year by connecting on his last two field-goal tries, and said he learned a valuable lesson from his first year with the Bulldogs that he's keeping in mind during the offseason.

"It's all about stability," Walsh said. "You can wow them with your leg strength, but when it comes down to it, it's just about making kicks, doing what you need to be doing."

With that in mind, Walsh is approaching his offseason with the goal of improving his flexibility and athleticism rather than bulking up his already strong leg.

"Just getting quicker, faster and stronger, really honing in on your fast-twitch muscles," he said. "That's really what helps you kick the ball. It's not about bulking up your leg. It's being the most athletic person you can be."

-- After a breakout freshman season, A.J. Green might be expected to lament the departure of his quarterback, Matthew Stafford, who announced earlier this month that he would forego his final season at Georgia to enter the NFL draft. As it turns out, however, Green is excited to catch passes from Georgia's new starter, Joe Cox.

Green worked with Cox regularly during practice and said Cox's skills set doesn't differ too much from the man he's replacing even suggesting that Cox might be a tad more accurate than Stafford. At the very least, Green admitted, his hands should sting a bit less after hauling in a quick strike this season than they did with Stafford under center.

"Coming from Stafford, it's a little more heat," Green said. "Joe, he puts it right there. It's not really a difference, but heat-wise, Stafford puts a little more on it."

-- Georgia's special teams were a mixed bag in 2008, but punter Brian Mimbs proved to be one of the team's few consistent veterans. While his replacement for 2009 has yet to be named, Walsh said the early indications are that second-generation Bulldog Drew Butler is the odds-on favorite to win the job.

"From what we all know, it's Drew right now," Walsh said. "Drew has earned it, he's competed for the spot back when he was a freshman. He's a fantastic punter. Drew could have played, but he just happened to be behind Brian."

-- When Knowshon Moreno announced he was leaving Georgia early to enter the NFL draft, he didn't exactly give his teammates much of a heads up. King and fellow running back Richard Samuel learned of the decision through TV news coverage the day of Moreno's announcement, and neither have talked to their former teammate since he left to begin training in Texas.

That doesn't mean Moreno left Athens without passing along a bit of advice to the players who will be tasked with filling his rather large shoes in 2009.

"He told me just don't let nobody put you down," King said. "A lot of people are going to try to put you down and say bad stuff about you, but just don't worry about it."

-- Strength and conditioning coach Dave Van Halanger stopped senior defensive tackle Jeff Owens in the weight room one day last week and struck up a conversation. Van Halanger asked Owens where he thought he might be this time next year.

It was a question that would have garnered a simple and decisive answer a year ago, but after a season-ending injury, ACL surgery on his knee, months of rehab and a fresh start for his second senior season, Owens responded with a philosophical "Who knows?"

Last January, Owens figured he would be fresh off a Senior Bowl performance and would be preparing for the NFL draft by now. Instead, he spent the extra time in the classroom, and will add minors in consumer economics and housing to his degree in early childhood development all while working his way back into shape for a second crack at leading Georgia to an SEC title in his senior season.

"It's coming along quite well," Owens said. "I'm rehabbing every day. I've started jogging. I'm trying to get back to 100 percent, and I'm going to make a big impact."


Jferg in NC said...

Youth is obviously going to be an issue..especially at Running Back and DB. Is there anyone emerging as the "leader" on the offensive side of the ball? I mean, defense will have Owens/Atkins/Weston/Curran to lead the way...but I can't remember anyone really talking about a leader on the "O" side. Will it be Joe Cox? Can he lead after riding the pine for 4 years? Is there anyone else stepping up into that role? Maybe Clint Boling? Also, having a leader is important...but how important is it to have a "position specific" leader? Thanks!

David Hale said...

that's a good point Jfeg. UGA will be very young on offense in '09, and there aren't any clear candidates for those leadership roles like there are on the defensive side of the ball.

I do think Cox will be the real voice of the offense. True, he sat the bench for four years, but he's also engendered a lot of respect from the other players, similar to what Shockley did during his time waiting behind Greene.

On a day-to-day basis though, you do need to find those positional leaders, the guys who take charge during drills and in the film room. I think Tony Wilson will be that guy from the WRs, but he needs to be able to get healthy and get on the field to really solidify that role. He sees himself as a coach/player though, and that's his approach all the time.

At RB, Shaun Chapas learned a lot from Brannan Southerland, who was one of the real senior leaders on the team last year. I could see Chapas stepping into that role now. Plus, Bryan McClendon is a great fit as RBs coach because he's still young enough to almost seem like part of the team, but at the same time, he is a great vocal leader.

On the O line -- I think you are right to point to Boling, who really made a lot of fans among his fellow linemen last year by playing such a versatile role. Same is true of Chris Davis, who fought through a lot of pain with his hip injury to stay out on the field. Plus, with Coach Searels, I'm not sure having a positional leader is as important because everyone is too afraid to piss him off in the first place.

Timothy said...

Im way more excited about this coming season than last season. No huge expectations, just go out and get the job done. Cox is no doubt the leader on offense!

Anonymous said...

Great post, David. Thanks for the insight and the comments. Bravo.

Andrew Miller said...


The quote you have from from AJ Green regarding his hands stinging from # 7's passes is quite telling and I wrote a blog regarding that same topic last month. I hope your readers will check it out here:

Keep up the good work. Go Dawgs! Andrew Miller

Scott B. Thompson, Sr. said...

I don't think Brian Mimbs got all the praise he was entitled to. If you check the stats, Brian wound up 0.1 yards short of the all time average. He finished 4th best in season average and is the only Bulldog to average more than 50.0 in a game twice in his career. Of course if you take away the one shank (and all punters have them) he would be #1 in UGA history. By the way, Brian never mishandled a single extra point or field goal snap.
Scott B. Thompson, Sr., Dublin, GA