My blog has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/bulldogs-blog/
and update your bookmarks.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Football Notes: Richt Intrigued By Running Backs

From Joe Cox's first snaps as Georgia's starting quarterback to the battle to find someone who can get pressure on the other team's quarterback at defensive end, there are plenty of questions Mark Richt is excited to find answers to during spring practice this year.

The competition Richt is most interested to watch, however, is one that isn't likely to be resolved until the team is ready to start its season this fall or maybe even later.

"I'm really interested to see the competition at tailback," Richt said. "I think there's absolutely an answer or answers within the group of young men we have right now. I don't think there's any question that we're going to have high production from our tailback position, it's just going to be interesting to see who comes to the forefront in that role."

During spring practice, only Caleb King and Carlton Thomas will be on the field, while Richard Samuel and Dontavius Jackson rehab injuries. Incoming freshman Washaun Ealey won't be on campus until the summer.

Richt said it's possible that, following the departure of Knowshon Moreno, the Bulldogs could return to a running back-by-committee approach that his offenses had employed for most of his tenure in Athens. Still, the opportunity for King to prove his mettle this spring could also earn him a shot to nail down a hefty chunk of the carries this season.

"Caleb's got to be more consistent," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "He's shown us some flashes, and he'll have a chance to do that. He's going to be the primary back with Richard out this spring. He's been working hard, he's done a great job in workouts, and we've seen the quickness and the explosion coming out of high school."

THOMAS EYES JOB AS TOP RETURN MAN

While Carlton Thomas will battle Caleb King for snaps at tailback this spring, he'll also have a chance to earn a job as Georgia's top returner in 2009.

The fleet-footed Thomas has drawn rave reviews from players and coaches for his speed and instincts, and Richt said the freshman could be used to return both punts and kicks this year.

"He's super quick, great balance, very tough, he's strong," Richt said. "I think he would be a very, very good candidate for kickoff and punt return. Some guys fit one or the other better, but I think he's fast enough, strong enough, agile enough, sturdy enough to be able to handle either one of those things."

Cornerback Prince Miller remains atop Georgia's spring depth chart at punt returner, but as the lone corner with starting experience, coaches may want to save him from special-teams hits so he'll be fresh on defense.

Richard Samuel finished the year as the team's top kick returner, but while he recovers from a wrist injury this spring, cornerback Brandon Boykin could work his way into the mix for the job, too.

"He got some reps last year," said linebacker and special-teams stalwart Nick Williams. "Speed, he has all the mechanics to be on kickoffs, low 4.4 maybe 4.3s, very swift with great feet. I'll definitely block for him."

TALK IS CHEAP DURING THE OFFSEASON

The buzz around the locker room this offseason has surrounded the team's new work ethic in the weight room and on the practice field. Mark Richt said he has attempted to sharpen the players' focus in what he said is a back-to-basics mentality.

"Every year you evaluate what you've done well and what you haven't done so well, and anything you think you need to tighten up, you do it," Richt said. "Our mentality right now is I'm going to treat this team as if it's the first year I've been coaching at Georgia. We're setting the tempo as a coaching staff. We're setting the bar, and we're expecting these guys to reach that bar. They've been fighting like mad to do that, and I think that's what they're talking about."

Of course, the players admit that talking about change is easy at this point in the offseason. It's what happens once the rigors of workouts have taken their toll and the coaching staff isn't looking over their shoulders that will really determine how much different the attitude is in 2009.

"Right now, everybody's focused because everybody's pushing each other and the coaches are all over us," wide receiver Kris Durham said. "But once we get to right after spring practice, the coaches really can't be around except for strength and conditioning, and we're going to really have to take it upon ourselves, take the mentality that we've built up so far and take it into the summer."

DRAFT DAY BRINGS PRESSURE FOR STAFFORD

His financial advisors have been offering advice on real-estate purchases, and NFL teams have been wheeling and dealing with his future on the line, but Matthew Stafford is keeping his cool despite the nearly daily discussion of where he might go in next month's NFL draft.

"That's one of his positives," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "He's not really fazed by that. People talk about pressure, but there was a lot of pressure playing here at the University of Georgia, having to start as a freshman and going through some of those struggles. For him to succeed the way he did and get better every year, I think he'll do the same things in the pros."

Stafford will be back in Athens next week to get ready for Georgia's pro day, which will be held March 19.

Stafford has been widely rumored to be the first overall selection in the draft by the Detroit Lions, but nothing is guaranteed. Recent roster moves by Detroit and Kansas City two teams in need of quarterbacks, have clouded the prognostications a bit, but Mark Richt said his former quarterback is focused more on what he'll do after the draft than where he goes on draft day.

"It sounds like he's excited about the possibility of being the first pick of the draft, and I think it's pretty obvious he's going to have a wonderful opportunity to have a wonderful NFL career," Richt said. "This is just the beginning for him."

QB QUANDARY FOR YOUNGSTERS

While Matthew Stafford waits and wonders what the future might hold, Georgia's coaches are worrying about how their depth chart might look without him in 2009.

Joe Cox is the clear-cut starter as spring practice opens, but beyond that, anything can happen. Logan Gray has the inside track on the No. 2 job, but after spending a significant portion of last season working on special teams, he hasn't solidified his role yet.

Freshmen Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger both enrolled early this spring, and while Bobo said he would like to redshirt both of them, he hasn't ruled out the possibility that one or both could earn some playing time right away.

"Personally I'd like to redshirt both of them, but who knows?" offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "It depends on how Logan Gray progresses and what we think of him at the quarterback position and if we feel we have enough depth."

Both Mettenberger and Murray were highly recruited coming out of high school, and the common perception was that one could land a spot on the Bulldogs' game-day depth chart, while the other would redshirt, preserving an extra year of eligibility after the other graduated.

That still might happen, Bobo said, but he won't use that rationale to make his final decisions.

"The spring is going to be to help them learn what we're doing so they can compete in the fall," Bobo said. "I don't want a guy ready to play and burn his redshirt just because they're in the same class and we want separation. I want to do what's best for both kids."

DOUBLE DUTY FOR SEARELS

A year ago, Stacy Searels was lauded as a miracle worker for piecing together a patchwork offensive line filled with freshmen despite numerous injuries. This year, he'll have a new challenge finding similar success with an equally youthful group of running backs.

Searels was given the title of running game coordinator this offseason, and while Bryan McClendon will serve as the position coach for Georgia's runners, fullback Fred Munzenmaier said he is excited to have input from Searels, too.

"I haven't seen a whole lot of offensive line coaches, but I've never seen anybody know so much or have so many ideas of what to do as he does," Munzenmaier said.

Since the success of the running backs rests so much on the productivity of the linemen, Munzenmaier said Searels' new role creates a perfect relationship that may give Georgia's running game a leg up on the competition this season.

"We break up into these segment meetings and we're learning the game plan from two different coaches," Munzenmaier said. "But the fact that they like to teach us what the other positions are doing, too, and we know their blocking schemes and what we're supposed to do, it really makes it easy to translate that onto the field and all come together and make that synergy."

DAVIS FINALLY FEELING BETTER

Six weeks removed from surgery to repair his injured hip, offensive lineman Chris Davis is still only doing light workouts to strengthen his legs. Still, that's a lot more than what he had been doing for the past year-and-a-half, and he's just excited to be pain free for the first time in a long time.

"It definitely hurt a lot and slowed me down," Davis said. "I basically haven't done any leg strengthening for a year-and-a-half now. I never did squats or power cleans, so I was just getting weaker every day."

That didn't stop Davis from staying on the field throughout the season for Georgia. Although he said the injury likely would have sent him to the surgeon midyear under normal conditions, Georgia's run of injuries to its offensive linemen forced Davis to play through the pain.

While Davis suffered through the season with minimal workouts, the injury which he initially suffered in middle school never got any better. With the pain gone, he hopes to be back to 100 percent by June and hopes he'll be able to take a step forward in his conditioning this season.

"It was an old injury that progressively got worse," Davis said. "It was inevitable that it was going to have to be fixed. So they went in and delayed the process of it getting worse, so hopefully I'll be able to get stronger and be better next year."

BALL SHAKES THINGS UP

Three of Georgia's assistants have turned down jobs with other schools this offseason, and head coach Mark Richt couldn't be happier. But while Richt said the consistency on his staff has been invaluable, the one major change he has made could pay some dividends, too.

After John Eason moved to an administrative position, Tony Ball moved from running backs coach to wide receivers, and while the change hasn't been too traumatic, wideout Kris Durham said, Ball's new approach has re-energized the players.

"It shakes things up a little bit," Durham said. "He brings a different philosophy, and you've got to try to learn what he wants us to do. Even if you know the offensive system, it's going to be different in the mentality and the way he tries to coach you."

FRESHMEN RECEIVERS COULD PLAY EARLY

Marlon Brown and Rontavious Wooten won't arrive on campus until this summer, but offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said both are getting some early studying done from afar. Bobo said he has sent a handful of plays to both players to get them accustomed to the offense, but he has been careful not to overwhelm them.

"You send a whole playbook to a young kid, there's no way they can decipher that," Bobo said. "You send them bits at a time and they can talk to their position coach over the phone, so they can learn gradually."

With three seniors gone from last year's receiving corps, Brown and Wooten may need to prove they're fast learners, and despite their lack of experience, Bobo said both could be in line for playing time immediately.

"Receiver is a position where even if you're not completely sure about the playbook, you can still come in and play," Bobo said. "Both of those guys are going to have a chance to come in and play."

4 comments:

DawgCPA said...

As usual, great work DH.
No mention of Jonathan deLaureal. What's up with him? I thought he was the real deal. And isn't Batson a redshirt soph as well? Both were highly touted; not as much as Logan, but still.

David Hale said...

I think both of them made some strides last year, and their development will probably play a big part in deciding whether to redshirt one or both of the freshmen. Delaureal has some health issues he's still working through though... not sure what his participation level will be this spring.

jferg said...

Wow...now THAT's a UGA blog posting!! Thanks DH. Now I can make it through the weekend...

I don't know about everyone else, but this is really starting to feel like 2002...under the radar a bit...plenty of talent and good leadership...and a solid D-line and O-line for the first time, maybe since 2005. I'm glad to see that Bobo is still ticked about the offensive "no-shows" last year. I firmly believe that the teams attidude comes from the top down...and if the coaches are this salty in March---spring and summer workouts should be a b*tch..which is only GOOD for our team! LOVE IT!

Anonymous said...

Orson Charles just became a DAWG!!!