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Monday, March 30, 2009

Practice Notes: Defense Takes a Hit

Head coach Mark Richt said the biggest lesson his team learned from its first spring scrimmage was that the players needed to do a better job of recovering from adversity. You can read what Richt said, along with stats from the day's scrimmage, HERE.

Beyond that, the big news of the day was the struggles of the defense. The secondary had a couple of interceptions, but didn't exactly capitalize, as they fumbled them away after the catch.

A few big plays, including a 75-yard touchdown from Aaron Murray to Vernon Spellman, turned the tide after a strong start defensively, and cornerback Prince Miller said he was disappointed in how his team responded.

"I know on our end, we gave up some big plays," Miller said. "We could have been better about being more vocal, being a team. Guys had good efforts, just overall we need to learn to be a team and fight through it."

That was the message defensive coordinator Willie Martinez imparted – with a healthy dose of angered inflection – after practice, too. But safety Bryan Evans said it shouldn't be up to Martinez to correct these problems. The responsibility falls on himself and the rest of the Bulldogs' senior leadership.

"Right now, as players, we don't want Coach Martinez to tell us what to do," Evans said. "We want to be led as a team, not be coach-driven. We want to show Coach we can do it without him having to jump down our backs."

Of course, the blame shouldn't fall completely on the leaders. The truth is, injuries are once again hampering the defense. With the high number of hampered defenders, defensive tackle Geno Atkins said the latter half of the scrimmage saw a lot of guys struggling to catch their breath.

"We had a couple good plays here and there, but we kind of got fatigued toward the end," Atkins said. "(The offense) got the best of us."

In addition to Spellman's big grab, A.J. Green was a full participant in practice and put up some good numbers. The other offensive highlights belonged to the guy who has been stealing the show all spring.

"Carlton Thomas looked pretty good," Atkins said. "He had a couple of touchdowns and a nice run where he cut it back one way and ran it all the way back the other way and scored a touchdown."

Richt felt Thomas had not only been the best of the bunch Monday, but said that the diminutive freshman had been Georgia's most consistent runner all spring -- ahead of Caleb King. While Thomas has been the talk of the spring, Atkins has been Georgia's most dominant player, and with two sacks, he offered the biggest highlights of the day for the defense.

"I knocked Carlton a couple times, had one up against Dallas (Lee)," Atkins said. "I guess I gave Cordy (Glenn) a run for his money a couple of times, too."

The performance by the offense wasn't perfect, quarterback Joe Cox said, but hearing the defense admit defeat was music to his ears.

"So many times people say the defense is normally going to get the better of the offense during the spring," Cox said. "Any time that they'll actually admit we beat them in something, that means we did something pretty good."


Georgia's defensive ends took another hit Monday, when freshman Jeremy Longo suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out of most of the day's scrimmage. Richt said he was unsure the severity of the injury immediately, but should Longo miss any significant time, Georgia will be down to just two healthy scholarship ends.

"By the time (the scrimmage) was over, (defensive tackle) Geno (Atkins) played a little D end and Kade (Weston) played a little D end," Richt said. "So I'm not sure how we'll proceed."


Incoming freshman offensive lineman Austin Long underwent back surgery Monday and likely won't be available to practice when he arrives at Georgia, possibly until December.

"I think we still plan on bringing him in at the normal time and being there to rehab him," Richt said. "By the end of the season, maybe by bowl practice, he might could get some work and be ready for spring. If he gets a medical redshirt his true freshman year, he'll still have four (seasons) to play."


Wide receiver Kris Durham suffered a minor shoulder injury that kept him out of Monday's scrimmage. Richt said he expected Durham to be back as early as Tuesday.

More concerning to Richt, however, was the status of receiver Tony Wilson, who is still recovering from ankle surgery – an injury he first suffered last spring and attempted to play through early last season.

"Tony's just not 100 percent," Richt said. "I don't think there's any question he can help us, but he's going at a certain percentage – my guess would be about 60 percent. He's healthy enough to go, but as far as his speed and agility, it's just not there right now."


Nick Williams didn't figure on playing linebacker when he came to Georgia, but since making the move from safety late last season, he has quickly adapted to the new role.

Williams led all Georgia players with six tackles in Monday's first spring scrimmage, and linebacker Rennie Curran said the freshman from Bainbridge has looked right at home at his new position.

"He's looking good," Curran said. "He asks a lot of questions. He's real confident, but listens to what the coaches are saying. He's a great guy to have around."

While Williams adjusts to his new position, Curran said he has been adjusting to the role of mentor. He said he has taken Williams under his wing and tried to offer as much advice as possible.

One topic that has been a popular one for Williams is the issue of adding some bulk to his frame. Having arrived as a safety, adding some heft has been a top priority for Williams, and the weight room just so happens to be Curran's area of expertise.

"All of those guys when they come in as freshmen, they go through a transformation," Curran said. "I just try to let them know that it's more about making plays. Don't get stuck on gaining weight or anything like that. At the end of the day, it's about who gets to the ball and makes the tackle."


Former Clemson quarterback Jon Richt took in a scrimmage with his dad and his girlfriend at Valdosta State last weekend, and Mark Richt said the whole family was impressed by their visit.

Jon Richt announced earlier this month that he planned to transfer after spending a year at Clemson. His father said he had hoped to find a school close to home, which made Valdosta State an intriguing possibility.

"I'd never been to Valdosta State before, and it's a beautiful campus," Mark Richt said. "It's about the right size, and I think he'd really feel comfortable."

Mark Richt said the group took in the scrimmage, enjoyed a campus tour, sat in on the quarterback meetings and checked out the academics, too. The Richts have already visited Georgia State and Mark Richt said they plan to take trips to Chattanooga and Mars Hill (in North Carolina) before making a final decision, which could come in about two weeks.

"Everybody's been great," Mark Richt said. "They just lay it out – this is who we've got, this is why we think he has a chance to compete, this is what we've got. It's just been great."


Longtime NFL and college football coach Lou Saban died Monday at age 87. Saban was the head coach at Miami who recruited Mark Richt to play for the Hurricanes in college. Although Saban left after Richt's freshman season, the Georgia coach said he still had many fond memories of his first college coach.

"I've seen Coach Saban from time to time afterwards, and I loved him in that he's the one that sold Miami to me out of high school, gave me the opportunity to play," Richt said. "I was sad to hear it, but I know he lived a very full life and coached a lot of ball over the years at all levels."

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