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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Practice Notes: Competition at Kicker

By season's end last year, Mark Richt had promised to go to Poland to find a kicker who could reach the end zone on kickoffs. As it turned out, he only had to go as far as his mailbox.

Georgia announced Thursday that it had signed kicker Brandon Bogotay, a junior college transfer from San Diego, who only began playing football midway through his senior year in high school.

Bogotay still had another year of eligibility remaining at Grossmont College in El Cajon, Calif., and his coach didn't send out any footage of the kicker, assuming he would return for his sophomore season. Bogotay decided to send out some tape on his own.

"He might have heard that Poland comment," Richt said. "I can't tell you how many times we watched that video."

It didn't take long for Richt to decide Bogotay had what Georgia was missing a year ago, but Georgia wasn't the only school interested. Bogotay had visited Hawaii a week earlier and had interest from several other schools, too, so Richt decided it was time to pull the trigger on a scholarship offer.

"Word started to get going, and I didn't want to get in a position where somebody closer to home got him," Richt said.

From Bogotay's highlight footage, Georgia's coaching staff was convinced he could be the answer on kickoffs -- an area the Bulldogs struggled mightily with a year ago.

"If you've seen tape on him, the obvious thing is that he has a very strong leg," Richt said. "Now, can he do it here? I don't know if the air is different in San Diego. There's just things you don't really know for sure. But we saw enough to think he has a chance to help us get really great field position when we kick the ball off."

Richt had said finding someone to handle kickoff duties this year would be a top offseason priority, but until he signed Bogotay, it appeared freshman Blair Walsh would land the job again by default.

"My goal as head coach is to make sure that we're better than we were a year ago, and we feel he gives us a chance to do that," Richt said. "If we get the exact same production that we got a year ago, did we really get better? I felt like we saw enough that this guy can help us be better, and that's what you want."

Richt said it will be an open competition this fall for all kicking duties, including extra points and field goals, and he expects that Bogotay's presence will push the current crop of Georgia kickers even if he doesn't win the job.

After a freshman season in which he delivered mixed results in the kicking game, Walsh said he is open to the challenge, but hopes to retain his job as both the field-goal and kickoff man.

"The mind-set that I have is they are bringing him in to compete at both positions, and that's what they're saying right now," Walsh said. "I've just got to treat it like that."

DAWGS SHOW RENEWED ENERGY

Tuesday, head coach Mark Richt lamented his team's lack of energy on the practice field, referring to the performance as "luke warm." Before the Bulldogs hit the field Thursday, Richt told his players he wanted to see more hustle, and that's exactly what he got.

"I really did like today," Richt said. "Tuesday I wasn't too thrilled. I thought we lost a little bit of that edge, but we really ran hard today. Guys were flying around. Both sides of the ball, great hustle, a lot of enthusiasm."

The strong day of practice was a good sign, quarterback Joe Cox said. While he admits that maintaining a high level of energy day in and day out is a tough task, he said bouncing back from a lackluster performance two days earlier illustrated the team's desire to stay motivated.

"That's the main goal is not to take any steps back and have a day where everybody knows it wasn't what we should have done," Cox said. "It's hard trying to keep people motivated every day for practice, but that is my main goal."

One of the day's biggest stars was freshman cornerback Brandon Boykin, who had two interceptions, but Richt said there has been no shortage of players who have impressed this spring.

"Our offensive line has had a couple times where they picked up some tough blitzes," Richt said. "Joe did a good job of working the pocket, threw some nice balls. ... Caleb (King) had a nice day running the ball in inside drill and on 11-on-11."

One play in particular stood out for Richt. It came on a pass from Cox to freshman Tavarres King, and Richt said it underscored how well the entire offense was working together.

"(The pass was) square over the middle that was within inches of Rennie (Curran) knocking it down, but it was a great catch on the run," Richt said. "There was a nice pick up of a blitz, Joe moving in the pocket, throwing a beautiful ball, Tavarres reaching out to snatch it on the dead run. It was impressive."

DOMINANT DOG

From Cox to Carlton Thomas to Bryan Evans and Rennie Curran, the spring platitudes have been plentiful. But if Richt had to narrow down his list to one MVP of spring practice, there's no doubt who would get the award.

"The most dominating player to this point has been Geno Atkins," Richt said.

Atkins has been a beast stopping the run and getting to the quarterback, and Tuesday he even returned an interception for a touchdown. The performance hasn't been particularly surprising, Richt said, as Atkins has been among Georgia's top defensive players the past two seasons, but this spring, the senior defensive tackle has taken things to a new level.

"They all struggle with him," Richt said. "Even a guy like Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones, he's tough as heck. They're talented guys, and Geno just kind of has his way with everybody right now."

A LOT ON THE LINE

Georgia will hold its first scrimmage of the spring tomorrow, and Joe Cox said no one on the team is taking it lightly. While coaches figure to use the practice to give some of the younger players a few more opportunities than they might normally get, Cox said Mark Richt already issued a warned his veterans that there will be a lot on the line for everyone.

"If you're a starter, tomorrow is where you solidify your spot," Cox said. "If you're a guy looking for playing time, tomorrow is where you get playing time. It is really good for the younger guys because they do get more reps, but it's not a period where the older guys can chill. It's time to prove ourselves that we can stay where we need to stay."

GREEN FEELING BLUE

A.J. Green wasn't sure how much he would be able to participate this spring due to a nagging groin injury, but through five practices, he was a full go. Thursday, however, he felt some soreness, and coaches decided to play it safe, sitting him out of most of the team's work.

"I wasn't 100 percent today," Green said. "I just had a little soreness. I did one-on-ones and stuff like that. They just told me to sit everything else out."

Both Richt and Green said they hoped he would be a full participant in Friday's scrimmage.

A LOT TO LEARN

For most of the Bulldogs, the spring is about picking up where they left off after their bowl game. For Georgia's receivers, however, new coach Tony Ball has implemented some major changes from the program they were used to.

"He's not changing the system, but he's changing how we do a lot of the little things," wideout Michael Moore said.

Where former coach John Eason took more of a big-picture approach to coaching, Moore said Ball has gone back to the basics. Instead of learning a plays, the receivers are working on fundamentals like coming out of breaks and gaining leverage on a defender.

"(Eason) stressed more the play, while Coach Ball stresses how to run your route," Moore said.

That has made this spring more of a learning experience for the receivers than for many of their teammates at other positions, and Moore said he has had to put in a bit of extra time at the office just to keep up.

"For us, we can't have enough time," Moore said. "After practice, me and A.J. (Green), we're still out there working on the stuff that Coach Ball is teaching us."

FLAG FIXATION

A year ago, penalties were the bane of Mark Richt's existence. Flags cost Georgia crucial yardage in nearly every game overturned several of the team's biggest plays of the year. Eventually, the penalties became the hot-button issue of the team's practice sessions, and punishments were in store for the whole team if it was flagged for too many infractions on game day.

"I can't say why we had as many penalties as we had a year ago because we didn't do anything that we hadn't done since I'd been here," Richt said. "As the season went along, we spent a lot more time emphasizing it, but it just got away from us."

Richt said Georgia's coaches aren't punishing players for penalties as much as they are encouraging a renewed focus on fundamentals. If a player is making smart decisions and getting into the proper position on a play, the odds of drawing a flag decrease significantly.

"By no means are we going to ignore it, but we're going back to the basics," Richt said. "The better our fundamentals and the better position we're in, I feel there's a lot less chance we'll have those kinds of penalties."

SPEECHES, BUT NO PLAQUES

Matthew Stafford had an arm so impressive it could earn him the distinction of becoming the top overall pick in the NFL draft. That's an asset Joe Cox knows he can't match, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have a strong weapon of his own.

"Joe's No. 1 thing is his leadership abilities," wide receiver Michael Moore said. "I don't want to say we didn't have leadership last year because we definitely did with people like Mohamed (Massaquoi) and Corvey Irvin. But Joe's a more rah-rah guy. He'll get in your face and get you amped up. It's little things like that. That's the No. 1 thing that stands out to me between him and Matt."

Down the road at Florida, the Gators have a smooth-talking quarterback of their own. In fact, Florida thought so highly of Tim Tebow's post-game speech after a loss to Mississippi last season, that the school had his words etched into a plaque that will now hang outside the team's new football facility.

Moore said he thinks Cox can bring that same type of fire to the Georgia locker room, but he doubts he'll see any halftime speeches plastered to the locker room wall anytime soon.

"I wouldn't put it past him," Moore said. "Joe has some good quotes. But as far as hanging them up, I don't know if the head man will do that."

KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE...

A reporter joked with Mark Richt before Thursday's news conference that Lane Kiffin had called Richt "a good buddy."

The compliment might have seemed a bit odd after Kiffin had reportedly made some less-than-kind statements about Richt's recruiting abilities earlier this year, but the Georgia coach at least attempted to appreciate the olive branch.

"Well, that's good," Rich said with a wry smile. "I need friends."

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting comments about the WR coaching. I think that pretty much sums up what a lot of us thought had been the problem for the last few years there.

I think we will see a lot more wide open receivers and great catches this year, and not just because of AJ Green's presence.

jferg said...

Wow...I am pumped after reading this. Thanks DH, tons of great things in here...

First, kicker competition on breeds a much better kicking game for us. I like Blair and think he'll be a great FG kicker...now with the added motivation of a serious contender AND maybe a bit more foucs on FGs and less on KOs, he should become very good by Fall

Secondly, I like that the Off is working together as a team to make good things happen. Team beats Individuals everyday--last year proves that point.

Last, Coach Richt has really turned the corner. Even the little things like "starters earning their spots tomorrow and wanna-be starters getting their shot" all echos what I've said all along--true open competition this year will add the spark we need...there just aren't many entrenched starters like last year.

LOVE IT! Can't wait to get updates from today's scrimmage.

DH, are you going to 'play by play' the scrimmage like pro day? Also, can you ask Coach Martinez if he's tinkering with a 3-4 with Geno, Kade, and Jeff as the 3 down?

Anonymous said...

Interesting to see Michael Moore talk about leaders of the team (MoMass and Corvey) and forget to list two stars that will go unamed. It's a dead horse that is been beaten to a pulp but it's still interesting.

Universal Remonster said...

Man, I love Richt. What a fantastic quote regarding Kiffin.

David Hale said...

Thanks, jferg... unfortunately the scrimmage is closed to reporters, so no Twitters. I'll have all the updates that we can squeeze out of Richt afterward though.

Will Q said...

This is great stuff, David.