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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Practice Notes: Richt Mum on Jones' Injury

Mark Richt spent a few minutes talking about the potential of the offensive line this season should everyone stay healthy. He even noted that it had been a strong camp for sophomore center Ben Jones. But when asked about a potential injury Jones reportedly suffered during Wednesday’s practice, his answer was simply, “No comment.”

Jones was seen leaving Georgia’s football facilities with his foot wrapped and using crutches, but Richt would not discuss any apparent injury.

As a true freshman last year, Jones started nine games, all at center, and was one of the few consistent contributors during an injury-ravaged season.

This year, he is expected to be Georgia’s starting center, while freshman Chris Burnette has worked with the No. 2 unit. Junior Chris Davis, who had been working as the No. 1 left guard could also slide over to center, a position he played throughout the 2007 season.

UPDATE: Per UGA Athletics, the injury is just a sprain. X-rays were negative and Jones is considered day to day.

RETURN ENGAGEMENTS

A year ago, it was game day before Richt had a clear idea of who would return kicks and punts for Georgia. This season, the depth chart is already coming into shape, and it doesn’t look a whole lot different from last season.

Richt said Prince Miller, who racked up 191 yards and one touchdown on nine returns, would handle punt-return duty, with quarterback Logan Gray reprising his role as the standard fair-catch man.

Richt said Gray has worked almost exclusively on kicks inside the 10, where his primary responsibility is to decide whether to fair catch the ball or let it roll into the end zone. Although Gray is likely to be Georgia’s No. 2 quarterback, Richt said the special teams job has few drawbacks.

“It’s not a high-risk job back there,” Richt said. “Rarely do those kicks get returned. Most of the time they’re trying to pooch it. It’s high, so it’s usually a fair catch or let it roll.”

There’s a bit more competition for kickoffs, with a couple of new faces joining last year’s veterans. Richard Samuel remains a top choice, along with senior Bryan Evans, but Richt said sophomore cornerback Brandon Boykin and freshman speedster Branden Smith are also getting reps.

KEEPING IT SIMPLE

Despite his special-teams work, Smith said his primary focus this preseason has been on learning the ins and outs of the cornerback position. Along those lines, he said his offensive reps have been minimal, despite Georgia’s coaches suggestions that he could see a bit of action at wide receiver this season.

“I’m not really working at it,” Smith said of his offensive exploits. “I’m still trying to focus on defense, trying to get my technique down. I still need to improve there, so right now I’m not even thinking about offense.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean Smith is averse to giving offense a try if called upon – a situation that he admits is still a possibility.

“If they do need me, I’ll go over there in a hurry,” Smith said. “I’m here to help the team win, whether they need me at quarterback, running back, whatever.”

STARTING FROM BEHIND

Kwame Geathers spent nearly three weeks waiting for a phone call to say he could start his Georgia career. He said he would sit in his living room and jump for the phone, even when it was just his grandmother calling.

When the call finally came to let him know he had qualified academically and could report to fall camp, the rest of his teammates were already three days into practice, and it’s been an uphill battle for the freshman lineman ever since.

“The first couple weeks were pretty hard, coming in late and seeing all the other guys in pretty good shape,” Geathers said. “I was back at home trying to stay in shape, but I’ve found out you can’t be prepared for a college workout. It’s a different level.”

Geathers said he got some sage advice to keep his head up through the tough times from his older brother, Robert, who played at Georgia and is now with the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals. Still the advice has been tough to follow through with, particularly given the demands of his position coach, Rodney Garner.

“He expects me to know all the plays right now,” Geathers said. “He looks at me just like all the seniors. He wants me to be the best, and the best have to do it fast and learn it fast.”

Geathers earned some action in Georgia’s scrimmages last week, however, and while he understands he still has a long way to go, he said that was a good first step in getting into shape for what lies ahead.

“I’m still trying to learn the plays. I got in there and tried to make some stuff happen,” he said. “It’s tough, but I’ve been taught to just keep going, keep striving for the best and keep working hard.”

THE WAITING GAME

After criticizing the team for a lackluster effort during Tuesday’s practice, Richt was a bit more upbeat about the Bulldogs’ play Wednesday.

“I judge those practices by how hard they’re working and how focused they are on doing what we ask them to do, and I thought today was a good day in that regard,” he said.

Richt credited the cooler weather and overcast skies with energizing the team and admitted that this is the time of year when keeping his players motivated becomes an issue, as the bumps and bruises of more than two weeks of practice add up and the excitement of the first game is still more than two weeks away.

“If we were less than a week away, we’d be like, man we need more time,” Richt said. “But now that we’re two-and-a-half weeks away, you’re anxious to get a little bit closer. You want to get the work in, but it’s a long time to wait for that game.”

Senior defensive tackle Jeff Owens said he’s as excited as anyone to get back to playing real football, but at the same time, he’s not ready to declare the Bulldogs ready for action just yet.

“We wish it was where you get through camp, and it’s the first game,” Owens said. “But I’m happy that we still have these two weeks to get better. I think we’ve got a long way to go to be great. To be at a championship level, we need to get to a certain point, and right now we’re not competing at that level. But we still have time and a lot of room to grow.”

That’s the primary concern for Richt, who said the dog days of fall practice are perhaps the best indication of what to expect from the team once the season actually gets going.

“I think it’s going to wear on us a little bit, but that’s where we’ve got to be strong and stay focused because that’s what’s going to still be there when the emotions are gone,” Richt said. “We just need to keep grinding right now – and it is a grind.”

MAKING A NAME FOR HIMSELF

If it weren't for injuries to veteran linebackers Darius Dewberry and Akeem Dent, freshman Mike Gilliard would likely be spending this fall working with the third-stringers, toiling in relative obscurity.

As luck would have it -- for Gilliard and perhaps for Georgia -- he's managed to work his way into the starting lineup for the past two scrimmages, and the Bulldogs' coaches have been impressed with what they've seen.

“He’s gotten a lot of work because of Dewberry’s situation," Richt said. "He’s progressing, and he’s gotten a lot of work with the No. 1 unit."

His progress has been so impressive that Richt is all but certain that Gilliard won't be redshirted this season, regardless of the amount of playing time that may be available.

"I don’t think there’s much doubt we plan on playing him," Richt said. "When everybody comes back healthy, I don’t know where he’ll end up on the depth chart, but I think he’s played enough to where we wouldn’t be afraid to let him play some scrimmage downs and I know our special teams coaches are trying to find every one they can get.”

SLOWED, BUT STEADY

Akeem Hebron hasn't enjoyed a lot of consistency in his career. He arrived highly recruited, but injuries and academic issues have plagued his time at Georgia.

So far during fall practice, there's still a bit of rust, but Richt said the reports from Hebron's coaches have been encouraging.

“I don’t know if he’s 100 percent healthy from what he was coming out of high school, so I don’t know if he’s really hitting on all cylinders," Richt said. "But he’s smart, instinctive, he’s made good open-field tackles, and coaches like him.”

Richt said Hebron has been working mostly at the Will linebacker position behind Rennie Curran and Nick Williams.

4 comments:

Dawg Stephen said...

A well rounded report. Thanks for the great work David. Do any injuries seem serious? This thing with Ben sounds like a bad deal, but is anyone in any danger of missing any time??

Dawg Stephen said...

AJC Article states at 9:47pm that is a sprained ankle for Ben Jones, and that he is day to day according to Claude Felton. X-Rays were negative. Thank you Lord.

Anonymous said...

Why are anonymous postings being deleted? If there is a policy, state it as such.

David Hale said...

Hold your horses there, Anon. I've never deleted anything that wasn't a.) blatantly offensive or b.) simply using the comments as free advertising for some Internet scheme.

There are two versions of this blog -- one dedicated as the Ledger-Enquirer's blog and one as the Telegraph's. If you posted a comment and don't see it now, it's probably showing up on the other blog.