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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Notebook: Arkansas Tight End Has Georgia's Attention

Willie Martinez said the game plan last week was to avoid getting beat deep, and the result was an eight-catch, 96-yard performance for South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders.

The game plan may have to change this week with Arkansas’ offense featuring All-SEC tight end D.J. Williams, but Martinez said the biggest key for Georgia’s defense will be execution.

“We didn’t tackle well in the last game, and that cost us,” Martinez said. “And we’ve got to do a better job of pressuring the quarterback, whether that’s through blitzing or the four-man rush. And we’ve got to do better in coverage.”

Martinez said Georgia was willing to give up some yards underneath against South Carolina, but linebackers coach John Jancek said Williams commands a bit more attention.

“It’s a different style in terms of what they do,” Jancek said. “I think Arkansas has some really good thoughts on how they want to get the ball to the tight end, and we need to be aware of where he’s at.”

The defensive effort should get a boost with the return of linebacker Nick Williams this week after the sophomore missed last week’s action with a sore hamstring. Georgia was without two of its top three Sam linebackers, who are usually tasked with covering the tight end.

“I’ve heard he’s a great player,” Nick Williams said of the Arkansas tight end. “I think I can help, even if it’s just with the depth so guys aren’t taking every snap at linebacker.”


Freshman Orson Charles was supposed to be eased into the offense, but he’s already proven he can be a weapon for Georgia.

Charles’ four catches and 84 yards receiving are both second-best on the team, and quarterback Joe Cox said the tight end is causing havoc for defenses already, despite his lack of experience.

“He’s definitely a great threat in the passing game,” Cox said. “He has really great speed, runs good routes, has good hands. You can tell that sometimes he’s having to think a lot about things, and that just comes with experience and just practicing. He’s learning a lot and it’s good that he’s getting plays early. You can see his confidence getting higher and higher with every ball he catches. He’s going to be a good one.”

While several of Georgia’s freshmen, including fellow tight end Arthur Lynch, have yet to secure the confidence of offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, Charles’ work ethic and reliability have stood out. That’s a good sign, Bobo said, and he expects Charles to see increased action in the coming weeks.

“He’s a conscientious kid who studies extremely hard and wants to be good and he has ability on top of that,” Bobo said. “He’ll continue to be more of the plan and the package because of his work ethic and his ability to make plays.”


Safety Quintin Banks was cleared for action last week following a knee injury suffered during fall camp, but the problem flared up again during practice this week, and head coach Mark Richt said he won’t make the trip to Arkansas.

Richt said the knee problem was nothing more than swelling, however, and he expects Banks to return to practice next week.

“He’s coming off an injury that he’s on the front end of when he could come back and he looked good, but it puffed up on him and that’s typical,” Richt said. “You just kind of back down and get the swelling out and try again.”

Richt said that defensive end Kiante Tripp and linebacker Darius Dewberry will also miss the game at Arkansas, but Williams, tailback Caleb King and offensive lineman Josh Davis, each of whom missed last week’s game, will all be on the trip.


Justin Anderson will start his second straight game at right guard Saturday, with Cordy Glenn working at left guard and Chris Davis coming off the bench.

Richt said Anderson looked sharp against South Carolina, and the coaches are anxious to allow the sophomore to continue to gain experience.

“He’s a good football player but he’s like any young guy, kind of up and down,” Richt said. “Sometimes you worry about how they’ll do in the course of a game, but as we always realize in the end, the more you play him the better he gets, the more comfortable he gets.”

Richt said the overall effort by the offensive line was strong a week ago, despite the offense totaling just 307 yards in the game.

“We pass protected pretty good, and we ran the ball well," Richt said. "I thought the line played pretty good, and some of the issues we had in total yards was just the number of plays we ran.”


Defensive end Cornelius Washington recorded the first sack of his career in the first half against South Carolina last week, and Richt said the play was a perfect example of why coaches are so high on the redshirt freshman.

“There’s another example of a freshman who’s getting to play and is just going to get better in a hurry,” Richt said. “I thought he improved a lot from Game 1 to Game 2.”

Richt said Washington engaged his blocker and pushed him back into the quarterback before breaking free for the sack – a technique the coaches teach in order to prevent the quarterback from knowing which way to scramble.

“That was really a clinic on that one particular play, and it just shows what he’s capable of,” Richt said. “Now he just needs to get consistent at it.”


Freshman quarterback Aaron Murray began light throwing again Wednesday after dealing with triceps tendonitis for the past week.

Richt said Murray will make the trip to Arkansas, but he isn’t sure when Murray will return to full practices.

“He threw a little bit (Wednesday), but not a lot, and it wasn’t in a competitive setting,” Richt said. “Trying to predict that would be like predicting when Caleb (King) was coming back. It’s hard to say.”


Two weeks into the season, and wide receiver Michael Moore admits, he’s still not quite sure what to make of Georgia’s offensive attack.

The Bulldogs struggled to post just 10 points in their opener, then rebounded with 41 against South Carolina a week later. That makes figuring out which version of the offense will emerge this weekend a tough call.

“I really don’t know,” Moore said. “There’s a lot more playmakers than there was in years past. There had always been one or two guys – this guy or that guy. Now I think we’re able to spread the ball out a little bit more and get more people involved.”

The biggest leap forward from the first game to the second, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said, was the energy the team played with, but the task of finding an offensive identity is still an ongoing process.

“I still think we’re still honing in on what we are offensively,” Bobo said. “But if we’ll play hard and eliminate the mistakes, we’ll have a chance to move the ball and score points in games.”


Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten didn’t see the field at all in Georgia’s opener and managed just three plays combined a week later, but Richt isn’t writing them off. In fact, he thinks the pair could develop along a path similar to another accomplished Georgia receiver.

“I’m not going to predict it’ll happen like it did for Fred Gibson, but it wasn’t until Game 3 that Fred Gibson really started to come on and play,” Richt said. “We have every intention to keep playing them and getting them more and more comfortable. Some of it was just not feeling comfortable that they knew exactly what to do on every play without somebody behind them coaching them, but they’re getting better.”


With Rod Battle out for the remainder of the season, the depth at defensive end will continue to be an issue, but Richt said two of Georgia’s youngsters could be closing in on a return.

Richt said sophomore Neland Ball is getting close to returning to practice, and redshirt freshman Jeremy Longo could return to work next week.

Longo had shoulder surgery during the offseason and Richt said he suffered a minor knee injury that hindered his return this fall.

“Not being able to move around as well on his knee was keeping him from progressing into combat with his shoulder,” Richt said, “but I think by next week we’ll begin to phase him into contact.”


Sophomore linebacker Marcus Dowtin wasn't planning on getting a lot of playing time early this season, but when he got his opportunity in Week 1 against Oklahoma State, he made the most of it.

Dowtin was the team's leading tackler in that game, then followed it up with another strong performance a week later against South Carolina. He now ranks second on the team with 14 tackles, and he's garnered some confidence from Jancek, too.

“Marcus has earned more playing time," Jancek said. "He’s got still a number of things he needs to work on but he’s making progress and you’ve just got to keep moving forward.”


Defensive tackle Brandon Wood has yet to practice this season while recovering from a labrum injury, but Richt said he hasn't completely counted Wood out yet. If the junior can return soon, Richt said, he could still avoid a medical redshirt.

“He could still play," Richt said. "He’s been trying to progress, and if he feels healthy enough and doctors say he can go, he’ll have a choice to make here.”


After two practices earlier this week that Richt described as lethargic, the Bulldogs' Thursday workouts were moved indoors thanks to rain.

Rather than lament the missed time on the field, Richt said he hoped the mental reps would sharpen the team's fundamentals against Arkansas and the lack of running would allow the players to be refreshed in time for Saturday's game.

“We’ve had enough practice outside in the weather. I didn’t feel like we needed to get soggy today, and we’ll get a chance to concentrate on the assignments and the mental aspect of the game, which is the great majority of what today’s about anyway. I think that’ll be good for us. To hold off on any kind of running today would probably be a good thing and help freshen the boys up a little.”

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