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Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Football Notes

Some football news and notes on Rennie Curran, A.J. Green, Marcus Washington and Michael Lemon to help you kill those final few hours of your work week...

-- With little more than a month until Georgia kicks off its spring practice, the focus in the locker room is clearly on what lies ahead for the Bulldogs. But the excitement about a new season hasn't diminished the sting of last year's embarrassing losses to Alabama, Florida and Georgia Tech.

A month into offseason workouts, many Georgia players have already lauded this as the most intense training the Bulldogs have endured in years, and the high tempo efforts have been fueled by the disappointment of last season's defeats. But beyond the weight room and film room, senior Marcus Washington said the team's leaders have offered regular reminders that that focus needs to extend beyond the athletics building.

"Guys doing wrong, you know they're doing wrong, you've got to get them on the right path," Washington said. "Last year we had a lot of off-the-field issues, guys getting arrested, guys getting in trouble, drinking, whatever. All that needs to be eliminated to be successful. I think that really hampered our season a little bit because guys always had these outside influences that made them not focus on the real task at hand, which is winning ballgames."

Georgia had nearly a dozen off-field incidents involving players running afoul of the law last year and three players Michael Lemon, Donavon Baldwin and Jeff Hensen left the program because of legal difficulties.

Washington said he thought the coaching staff's policies regarding off-field transgressions was already as tough as it could be, but this year the players need to take a more hard-line approach toward misconduct away from the locker room long before it reaches the level of police involvement. Players who aren't on board with the program, he said, should find a home elsewhere.

"(Coaches) always say you get one mulligan," Washington said. "You get to mess up once, and the next time around, it's pretty much you're out of here. Some guys are just hard-headed. They're going to do what they want to do, and they're going to have to learn the hard way. If going out drinking, partying, if that's what you want to do, you can go somewhere else and do it, because that's just not what we need here."

Linebacker Rennie Curran was among the team's most vocal leaders last season, but he said it became frustrating at times when some players simply weren't interested in listening. As the problems both on and off the field persisted, Curran said the focus tended to wane.

While he said he's spending this offseason honing his leadership skills, Curran also said he thinks this year's team has a far greater determination to remain focused on the task of winning games, and he doesn't expect any of the drama the Bulldogs encountered during their disappointing 2008.

"You just have to be persistent and hope everybody can get on the same page, but I have no worries about that this year," Curran said. "I feel like we've got a great group of guys that want to do things right and want to buy into the program, and that's going to translate into good things."

Added Washington: "So far, but it's early in the year. You could say guys haven't really had time to mess up yet, but so far guys have learned and you take guys like Akeem Hebron, for example. He had gotten dismissed for a semester, and now he's back doing things on the right path. With that situation, experience is the best teacher. He had to learn the hard way. Sometimes that's what it takes. I think our guys learned from their mistakes."

-- Speaking of Lemon, who played in 2008 at Georgia Military College after being dismissed from Georgia in July, he's on his way back to big-time football, too.

While one Georgia Web outlet reported last week that Lemon would walk on at South Carolina next year, I confirmed through a source close to Lemon that the report was completely false.

I'm told Lemon still has some legal issues to clear up in Athens, but at this point he is set to attend a Division I school on full scholarship (no, not Georgia), but for the time being, he did not want to discuss the specifics of his future. He's currently finishing his classes at the GMC Warner-Robins campus after an excellent fall semester in Milledgeville, but he and his future school both agreed not to discuss the situation for the time being.

Still, it's good news for a player who has been through a lot off the field in recent years. Said the source: "Mike will be in a very good situation and will have the opportunity to finish his collegiate career in a very good program."

-- When cornerback Asher Allen decided to leave school early to enter the NFL draft last month, his first recommendation for a replacement was freshman Sanders Commings.
That isn't entirely surprising to Commings, who was one of Allen's prot g s last season, but he said he's still going to have to work for the job, no matter whose endorsement he has.

"This spring is very crucial," Commings said. "I need to go out and have a great spring to show Coach (Willie) Martinez what I can do so I can step in. Coach Martinez said the best man is going to get it, so it's pretty open."

Commings added about 10 pounds to his frame he now weighs in around 215 last season and he said he's in good shape to fill the role of physical corner that Allen mastered for two seasons as a starter. While Commings doesn't have a ton of learning experience under his belt at this point after redshirting in 2008, he said he has learned enough to feel comfortable competing for a starting job.

"I've definitely learned a lot more since I got here," Commings said. "My backpedal was rusty coming out of high school, but overall I've just gotten a lot better."

-- Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran was already a weight-room legend among his teammates, but before the 2009 season kicks off, he's looking to add even more to his credentials.

"Working even harder in the weight room putting more weight on that I should and just doing more reps anything it'll take to be the best," Curran said.

At 5-foot-9, 225 pounds, Curran sets the Georgia standard for pound-for-pound strength, but his quest to break the team's bench-press record was cut just short a year when he wrestled with some nagging injuries during the offseason. This year, he's feeling good, and he's betting record will fall by the time the players begin maxing out in the weight room later this year.

"I've been putting more weight on, doing extra reps for the guys, and I'll evaluate at the end of the offseason, but it's going really good right now," Curran said. "My groin doesn't hurt like it did last season, I'm feeling healthier than I was coming off last season, so hopefully I'll be able to do great things in the weight room and on the field, too."

-- Quarterback Logan Gray knows his spot on the depth chart is far from etched in stone, but for the time being, he's pretty happy where he is.

Currently Georgia's second-string quarterback behind Joe Cox, Gray will face a challenge from highly recruited freshmen Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray for playing time this year and beyond. His goal is to land the starting gig after Cox graduates following the 2009 season, but if that isn't in the cards, the athletic Gray said a change in position isn't out of the question.

"No matter what I want to play, I just want to get on the field and contribute," Gray said. "I want to be the best quarterback I can be, but if for some reason it doesn't work out down the road, if it's not in the cards, I might look at playing another position, but I haven't really thought about it much right now."

-- Senior linebacker Marcus Washington was wearing braces on both wrists this week. He had sprained them at the same time while lifting weights a few days earlier. When a reporter asked Washington if that was a common injury, he couldn't help but laugh. "Nope," he said.

At this point, Washington has come to expect the unexpected, and any injury that won't keep him off the field in 2009 is one he can laugh about now. The shoulder surgery that kept him off the field for the entirety of the 2008 season, however, wasn't quite as easy to deal with.

"I was kind of coming into my own, starting to make a couple of plays, and to get set back like that was rough," Washington said. "But I guess that's what life is all about. It's about perseverance."

Learning those off-field lessons was Washington's reward for a year on the sideline. He hurt the shoulder last spring after completing a solid 2007 season in which he appeared in 11 games, including six starts, and made 40 tackles.

Last season was a setback, however, and he spent the majority of the year running non-contact drills with the scout team and working with the other linebackers in the film room. It wasn't exactly how he had hoped his senior season would unfold, but he said it was far from a wasted year.

"There's no better teacher than experience, and last year I didn't get a lot of on-field experience, but I got a lot of film time," Washington said. "I got to listen in on what the coaches were saying, and I got to watch. I saw the guys out there and see what they do wrong and say, 'OK, that's not right, I've got to do it this way.' You learn a lot like that, and I think it's going to help me this year."

Now entering his fifth season with the Bulldogs, Washington said he expects the battle for the starting middle linebacker job to be wide open this spring. He'll likely battle Darryl Gamble and Akeem Dent for the role, but said he's less concerned about how often he's playing than he is about how often the Bulldogs are winning. With one last chance to win a championship, Washington said the team's success remains his top priority.

"I don't want to focus everything around me because it's bigger than me," he said. "Yes, it's my last year here, but at the end of the day, it's not about me winning championships, it's about the team winning championships, and I just want to be a part of a championship team."

(And just in case you haven't gotten enough of Washington, Jeff Owens has a Q&A with him over at his "Real Deal" blog.)

-- On national signing day last week, wide receiver A.J. Green got a text from prized recruit Marlon Brown saying he had chosen Ohio State over Georgia. It was a big disappointment for Green, who had given Brown a strong sales pitch to join the Bulldogs to play wideout opposite Green.

A few minutes later, however, Green got another text from Brown saying the first announcement had been a little joke.

"He texted me like five minutes later saying, 'Psych, man, I'm coming to UGA,'" Green said. "I was a little nervous for a minute, but I'm looking forward to him getting here."
As a true freshman, Green led the SEC in receiving a year ago, but he won't be the young superstar anymore once Brown arrives. It's a change in mentality Green said he's anxious to make.

"Switching roles, turning into a leader," Green said. "I think I can improve by helping the young guys where I screwed up last year and stuff like that."

As for Brown, Green said he wouldn't be too surprised if the receiver out of Tennessee ends up topping many of the big numbers Green posted just a year ago.

"Just watching him on film," Green said, "when he has the ball in his hands and how he attacks it with years after the catch, he can do great things."

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