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Friday, August 7, 2009

Practice Notes: Houston's Spirits Still High

Justin Houston won't be on the field for the first two games of Georgia's season, but that hasn't hindered his preparation.

The sophomore defensive end had a breakthrough spring and was expected to be the anchor of Georgia's pass rush, but a two-game suspension for violating team rules threatened to put the breaks on his growth. Instead of sulking, however, head coach Mark Richt said Houston has handled his punishment with maturity and gone right back to work.

"He's got a wonderful attitude," Richt said. "From the minute he had his issue, he was very remorseful. He took his discipline like a man and he's been working extremely hard. He understands he's got to pay a price, but he's anxious to get back into games."

Despite the suspension and a minor hamstring injury, Houston tackled his offseason with as much vigor as he did during a masterful spring in which he was one of just two healthy defensive ends.

Despite the suspension, Houston never missed a voluntary workout, and the results were obvious. When Georgia's players hit maxed out in the weight room at the end of their offseason conditioning, Houston set the team record for power cleans, lifting 420 pounds.

"He's been really good about it," defensive end Demarcus Dobbs said. "He's been coming to all the workouts, showing up on time and being a great leader to those other guys. Even though he's had this setback, he doesn't show it."


During his preseason news conference, Richt joked that he'd be far happier if Georgia was ranked No. 2 than No. 1 in the first polls of the season. Starting at the top didn't suit his team well a year ago.

As it turns out, he won't have much to worry about this preseason. The Bulldogs were ranked 13th in the first USA Today/Coaches' Poll, released Friday. The news didn't come as much of a surprise to Richt.

"I figured we'd be somewhere in there," he said.

The No. 13 ranking is the same place Georgia started in 2007 when the Bulldogs wound up winning the Sugar Bowl and finishing the season at No. 2 in the poll. With a difficult schedule that includes 11 BCS-conference opponents, Richt said the opportunity for a similar performance is there this season.

"Our schedule is set for if we have success, we'll move up, no doubt," he said.


The NCAA mandates players have five days in shorts and shoulder pads before they can participate in contact drills during the preseason, and freshman lineman Kwame Geathers was already behind schedule after failing to earn NCAA clearance to report to camp until Thursday.

His first day in Athens was a whirlwind, Richt said, as the team rushed him through a physical and some quick orientation to make sure that the five-day clock started immediately.

Geathers' first practice Friday included little beyond running and conditioning, something Richt said the freshman needs to do a lot of during the coming days.

"It's very evident when you see a guy come in that late compared to a guy who has been here all summer, working with our strength staff all summer, working in the heat of the day, having veterans be able to teach him the ropes on and off the field," Richt said. "He's behind because he wasn't here, and we understand that. We'll be pushing him, but we can only go so quick."


Senior linebacker Marcus Washington spent the majority of Friday's practice working with the defensive ends. Washington, who missed all of the 2008 season, spent some time as a stand-up rusher during spring practice, and Richt said the senior will continue to work at the new position regularly.

"He was working at defensive end in pass rush, in inside drills and a little bit in 11-on-11," Richt said. "He's starting to learn how to line up. We're seeing what kind of a knack Marcus has."

Richt said the plan is to use Washington at linebacker during traditional defensive sets and move him up to the line of scrimmage when the defense shifts to a nickel package.


It's tradition for Georgia freshmen to get their heads shaved by their veteran teammates each preseason, but linebacker Chase Vasser is hoping to avoid the embarrassment. Already sporting some flowing locks, Vasser earned the name "Cush" due to his resemblance to former USC linebacker Brian Cushing.

Hoping to avoid the haircut, Vasser said he struck up a deal with senior Darius Dewberry in which, rather than going completely bald, the freshman can't cut his hair for a full year.

"I said I'll grow it out long for a year, so as of right now, I'll be growing it out long," Vasser said. "I've never had it shaved before, and I don't know if I might have a giant mole under there or something."

A NEW 105

Until classes begin, Georgia can only have 105 players in camp, which limits the number of walk-ons and injured players who can participate in practice. For the first few days, offensive lineman Josh Davis, who is recovering from two offseason shoulder surgeries, didn't make the cut, but a hamstring injury to redshirt freshman Johnathan Owens caused Richt to make a switch.

"We're doing it mainly because of (Davis') ability to teach the young players what to do," Richt said. "If we're going to have two guys injured, you might as well have a veteran in there."

Owens is only expected to miss about seven to 10 days, but his return will coincide with the start of classes and reduced roster restrictions.

Davis is expected to miss the majority of the preseason and will not be ready for game action in time for Georgia's opener against Oklahoma State on Sept. 5.


Safety Reshad Jones sat out a second straight practice with a hamstring injury, but he hopes to make a prompt return to action.

Jones hurt the hamstring originally over the summer during a conditioning drill and said he re-injured it during one-on-one drills Thursday. While he understands the risk of trying to come back too quickly, Jones said he's doing everything he can to minimize his time off the field.

"I want to take it day by day, but I'm working hard in the training room doing everything possible to get back," Jones said.

Richt said the current timetable for Jones' return is a week to 10 days.


After four days of practice -- two in pads, two in shells -- Richt said it's hard to get too much of a gauge for the season so far. But while he sees plenty of mistakes from the youngsters, he likes the hustle the players have shown on the field.

"It's obvious there's a lot of guys who don't know what to do exactly the way coach wants it done every time, but the attitude, effort, coachability, enthusiasm, very good, and that's crucial," Richt said. "So to this point, I'm pretty pleased."


Once again, it was the defense that highlighted the day's practice session by creating a couple of key turnovers.

Richt said excellent coverage on a passing play by Darius Dewberry led to a nifty interception by Prince Miller, which Miller returned for a score. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins also drew praise for picking off a pass and returning it for a touchdown on a play Richt called, "a thing of beauty."

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