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Monday, August 10, 2009

Practice Notes: Caleb King Stepping Up

It has been nearly three years since Caleb King was a star. Since then, there has been plenty of hype, but not much for the highly recruited tailback to show for it.

An injury sidelined him much of his senior season at Greater Atlanta Christian, and King spent the past two seasons staring up the depth chart at Knowshon Moreno. Waiting his turn was difficult.

"On the sideline you would see him make a play and be like, dang, I can do that, too," King said. "It was tough."

This fall, things are different. Although King has hardly seized control of the starting job, there's no longer an immovable impediment in front of him. Four other tailbacks have their sights set on the same prize, but for the first time in a long time, King is in control of his own destiny. It's a situation he's enjoying.

"It's like Caleb has kicked into another gear," tailback Carlton Thomas said. "He just seems like a different guy coming to work every day, and you can tell in his performance on the practice field."

King earned marginal playing time last but earned scorn from his coach for occasional lackluster efforts, particularly in pass blocking. He had a chance to nab the starting job for himself this spring when his top competition, Richard Samuel, underwent wrist surgery, but King failed to distinguish himself from the other tailbacks before spring practice ended. The critics wondered if King would ever live up to expectations.

Whether it was the criticism of his past or the opportunity for his future, King responded this summer. He hit the weight room with increased vigor and said he's in his best shape since getting to Georgia. Through a week of practice this fall, his coaches have seen a distinct difference.

"I see him hustling," head coach Mark Richt said. "I've not seen one loaf in that guy, and he's had good energy level at practice."

Whether King actually gets the starting job remains to be seen, as Richt insists it will remain an open competition for the foreseeable future. But whether or not King starts is a secondary issue, the tailback said. What's important is that he knows he's done the work he needed to earn it.

"It's very important to me," King said. "I worked hard, and I'm not going to say I deserve it, but I know I've earned it with what I put in this summer."


Freshman tailback Washaun Ealey participated in several of Georgia's drills Monday but was held out of contact work due to a hyperextended elbow he suffered last week.

Even with the lighter workload, however, Ealey's first few days on the job have been a whirlwind, he said.

"It's been very intense, and I've been learning a lot," Ealey said. "The coaches and the other running backs have been helping me with all the plays. I have to get used to how big and fast the other players are on defense and how much more physical I have to be."

With that in mind, Ealey asked out of his green non-contact jersey after the morning's workouts so he could be a full participant in the afternoon session.

Ealey wore a brace to prevent further damage to his elbow, but managed to take several hits during the afternoon session without any pain.

"He got hit a couple times and it didn't look like he came back crying," Richt said. "It's a little sore, a little tender, but he wants to compete and that's good."


The weather hasn't exactly made hitting the practice field too much fun during Georgia's first seven days of fall camp, but the long afternoons under the scorching sun may be a blessing in disguise.

Richt said he expects the temperatures in Stillwater, Okla. to approach triple digits when the Bulldogs open their season against Oklahoma State, and his staff has worked to prepare Georgia for the heat even before practice began.

"The coaches did a good job this summer of not having us working out in the mornings, but having us out there when it's hot," defensive tackle Kade Weston said. "You can tell the difference, and there would have been a lot of people cramped up or with IVs. It's tough going in the sun, but it's going to help a lot."

That doesn't mean that donning a helmet and pads was particularly comfortable, Weston said. In fact, he said players might benefit a lot more from being able to wear helmets during voluntary workouts in the summer, too.

"We were working all summer, but when we got down there with a helmet on, it felt different," Weston said. "If we could use helmets to condition in the summer, it would be a big help."

Richt said Monday that, despite the heat, he had seen very few players needed additional fluids or suffering from cramping.

"I liked what happened this morning and even this afternoon considering how hot it was," Richt said. "Most of our hot afternoons have been after walk-throughs, not after practice. I was a little concerned, but I didn't see anybody cramp during practice. Really after Day 2, I think we only had one guy with any kind of cramping issues."


With the first two-a-days in the books, quarterback Joe Cox said he's pleased with how far the team has come. The job now is to keep the momentum going.

"We've gotten better in the areas we needed to get better in, but now it's a grind," Cox said. "You have to find a way to keep everybody up, the tempo high in practice and make sure you get the work you need. You can't have a wasted day at this point once everything's been installed."

Particularly with the extensive heat and long practices, Cox said it's more important than ever for Georgia's leaders to step up and be vocal on the field.

"When you have two practices a day, you have to be focused and make yourself push through everything," Cox said. "There are times during the first practice when you're struggling and you're like, ‘Man, we still have another one of these this afternoon.' But it's just one of those things where the leaders have to step up and keep everybody enthused and pushing hard."


A few more minor health concerns cropped up for Georgia on Monday.

Defensive end Justin Houston sat out with a shoulder injury that Richt said wasn't particularly serious. Houson will likely miss Tuesday's walk-through as well, but should be ready for contact Wednesday.

Demarcus Dobbs underwent foot surgery during the offseason, and Richt decided to hold the defensive end out of Monday's late session as a precaution.

"Dobbs had the foot injury and just the volume of having a lot of reps, we tried to give him more of a one-a-day today," Richt said.

The most concerning of the group, however, is wide receiver Marlon Brown. Richt said the freshman chipped or broke a bone in one of his fingers that prevented him from catching passes Monday. While Richt wasn't certain when Brown would resume normal practices, he said the injury would not require surgery and wasn't likely to keep Brown out of many drills.

"He's running routes right now, but we're not throwing any balls to him," Richt said. "Probably by Wednesday we'll be throwing balls at him."


-- Richt gave a thumbs up to both the offense and defense after Monday morning's contact drills. Georgia ran three full-contact drills -- an inside drill, three-on-three drill and goal-line drill -- and both sides of the football had their moments.

The offense won the inside drill and the defense dominated on the goal line. The three-on-three competition came down to an 8-8 tie, so Richt allowed a tie breaker that the defense narrowly edged out, he said.

-- One very encouraging note from this morning's competitive drills: The offense had just one penalty. The defense had none.

-- Georgia ran one-minute drills during the afternoon in which the offense tried to move the football into field-goal range with the clock ticking. The results were mixed.

The first-team offense quickly moved into range, but turned the ball over on an interception before attempting the kick. The second team did slightly better, also getting into field-goal range but the kick missed.

-- Darryl Gamble continued his take-away barrage with another interception Monday afternoon. "He's had a wonderful camp," Richt said. "He's got a great attitude. He just seems like he's over the hump. He's a veteran now, watching those other puppies suffer, which is fun for those guys. He's really done a good job."

-- It's not just Gamble playing great defense, however. Richt said the defense overall has been making plays in the passing game at an impressive rate. "I think we had 75 pass break-ups in the first six practices and a good many picks," he said. "We're catching the ball better."

-- Of course, the good news for the defense is bad news for the offense, and the amount of turnovers are still a big concern for Richt. Before fans worry too much about new starter Joe Cox, however, Richt said the majority of the turnovers are coming from the second team.

"I'd say the majority of the turnovers is with the No. 2 offense vs. the No. 1 defense – a great majority has been that," Richt said. "When you've got a veteran D-line like we have and throw a couple true freshmen in there, it's hard to protect like you'd like them to. So the majority of the turnovers are with the No. 2 unit, but it's still too many."

-- Georgia will practice again Tuesday, but will only do a walk-through and kicking drills. The Bulldogs have their second dose of two-a-days coming Wednesday, and Richt announced that the afternoon session will be the team's first scrimmage of the fall.

That makes Wednesday a key date for several depth-chart battles, particularly at running back, Richt said.

"We're going to have a scrimmage here pretty soon and that will begin to separate the guys," Richt said. "Even inside drill to a certain degree will give you a little taste of what kind of runners you have. Plus there's a lot of things that happen in meetings, and Coach (Bryan) McClendon's in there, and he knows who knows what. He knows who doesn't know it. And it may come down to a guy who is just not comfortable with his protections and his assignments. The other thing is ball security. If a guy has trouble holding on to the ball, he'll be watching. I wouldn't say there'll be any kind of reshuffling until after our first scrimmage, but I'd think we'd reshuffle a little bit right then."


Randy Powers said...

David, I read all of your stuff and love the twitter updates. You can find me on there @genxdawg. Thanks for the strong work.

BenG said...

Great update. Thanks, DH!