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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Notes: Special Teams Staying Young

Georgia’s kickoff coverage team has struggled throughout this season, culminating with a disastrous effort against LSU that allowed the Tigers to begin their final drive with exceptional field position.

While head coach Mark Richt said the team continues to address the problems, he said some of the issues are simply a matter of youth that can only improve with increased experience.

“I can’t sit here and say we’ve got 10 guys that are really getting after it and getting it done,” Richt said. “I think they’re trying their tails off but there’s a lot of youth on that thing and they’ve got to continue to mature.”

Richt said the kick coverage team is the youngest of any of Georgia’s special teams units, and the loss of special teams stalwart Chad Gloer to a hamstring injury simply removed one more rare veteran presence.

Gloer will not be ready for this week’s game against Tennessee, Richt said, but could return in time to take on Vanderbilt next week.

As for last week’s debacle following a go-ahead touchdown by A.J. Green, sophomore Logan Gray – who serves on the coverage unit as well as being the team’s No. 2 quarterback – said the problems started early with a 15-yard penalty backing up a kick, and the execution that followed was bad from the start.

“If we hadn’t gotten the penalty, we probably would have had a lot more options as to what we wanted to do, but because we were backed up, we had to kick it as deep as we could to try to save field position,” Gray said. “The kick was more middle of the field and we had tried to directional kick it. You have to play off that, but (Trindon Holliday) is a good player, and fast. We couldn’t let that happen, so it was unfortunate.”

While Gray concurred that an excess of youth on the unit has caused problems, he said the key to improving coverage going forward is far more about effort than experience.

“We did lose a lot of guys that played kickoff their whole careers here that were seniors last year, but I think kickoff is about want and desire and guys wanting to make a play,” Gray said. “I’m not saying our guys don’t want it, but we’ve got to dig deep for the rest of the season and make plays. It’s all about making plays, us vs. them, on kickoffs, with everybody getting to the ball.”

TAKING THE HEAT

Sure, Joe Cox tossed a potential game-winning touchdown for Georgia with just 1:09 to play last week, but even he knows it was far from his best effort.

The Bulldogs mustered just one first-half first down, and Cox threw a few passes that went wide of their intended targets.

So while his comeback effort was nice, he’s not at all surprised by some of the criticism he’s gotten from fans since Georgia dropped a heart-breaking 20-13 game to No. 4 LSU.
“Any time something’s not going right, they think if you put a new quarterback in, that’s going to change the problems,” Cox said. “That doesn’t bother me at all.”

For the season, Cox has completed 59 percent of his passes, including 11 touchdowns, while throwing six interceptions.

Against LSU, he finished 18-of-34 for 229 yards, but was just 3-of-9 for 31 yards in the first half.

“I missed a couple throws,” he said. “It’s jut being more accurate. That’s all it is. You’re not going to be able to make every throw. It’s not that I have a lack of confidence in certain throws. There’s just some times when you’ve got to hit them and (Saturday) I didn’t hit ‘em.”

WHERE’D HE GO?

After seeing a healthy dose of action in Georgia’s first two games of the season, freshman tailback Carlton Thomas has disappeared from the offense in recent weeks.

That’s no knock on Thomas, head coach Richt assured. It’s simply a matter of a numbers game at tailback, where Caleb King’s return to the lineup and a desire to let the Bulldogs’ top two runners establish a groove, left little room for Thomas to see the field.

“He’s getting it, but when Caleb came back that was kind of more of the issue than anything else,” Richt said. “We’re not disappointed in Carlton. But we’ve had a lot of extremely close games and one more healthy back in the lineup when Caleb was out.”

Thomas could see more playing time this week, as King is expected to miss the game after suffering a concussion and a broken jaw last week against LSU.

The bulk of King’s carries, however, will be going to freshman Washaun Ealey, who saw his first taste of action last week and looked sharp in the second half against the Tigers.

That was a home date, however, and this week’s task gets tougher in front of more than 100,000 fans at Neyland Stadium. Richt said he’s not sure how Ealey will react, but he said the freshman appears confident.

“He seems excited about it,” Richt said. “I think he’s practiced pretty well. He thinks he’s ready, but we’ll see. It’s hard to describe what it’s like over there to the guys who have never been there, and he’ll get a taste of that.”

Richt said he expected Richard Samuel to be the starting tailback, with Ealey getting roughly half the carries in the game.

THE WAITING GAME

For the fourth straight week, Georgia will be without linebacker Akeem Dent and defensive end Kiante Tripp, who have both missed time with injuries that have lingered since fall camp.

Dent hurt his hamstring in early August and was slow to recover. He played in Georgia’s first two games, but re-aggravated the hamstring injury against South Carolina and hasn’t played since.

“For some reason he’s just really had trouble healing,” Richt said. “Some guys have a hamstring injury, and most guys just recover a little bit quicker. Even when he did play a game or two, it happened again.”

Richt said Dent would be questionable next week against Vanderbilt, but barring a setback, would definitely be ready to take on Florida after Georgia’s open date.

A neck stinger limited Tripp during the preseason, but like Dent, he attempted to get back on the field after the season began. The injury never completely healed, however, and he hasn’t seen action in three games.

While he’ll be out against Tennessee, Richt said the junior defensive end was upbeat about his prognosis.

“He feels like we’re really close, and it could even be next week that he’ll begin to practice,” Richt said. “He’s definitely improving, and he doesn’t feel like he’s just stuck.”

NO HARD FEELINGS

While Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin made headlines throughout the offseason by criticizing several other programs in the SEC, linebacker Rennie Curran isn’t looking at this week’s game as a chance to punish the Volunteers’ coach for any potentially critical comments.

“You see it and react to it, but you go with your life,” Curran said. “You realize a coach is going to talk, but at the same time, I’ve never seen a coach put on pads and play. Sometimes as a coach you have to do things to get your team fired up, and I guess that was his way of doing that.”

That doesn’t mean Curran isn’t taking this week’s game seriously, however. When it comes to playing Tennessee, he doesn’t care who’s on the sidelines. He just wants to win.

“No matter what coach they have, this is such a huge rivalry and there’s so much tradition invested in this game, that for them to beat us would be a huge boost to their program,” Curran said.

LOST IN THE SHUFFLE

With just six scholarship receivers on the team, third-year sophomore Israel Troupe thought this might be his breakout season. So far, that hasn’t been the case.

Troupe caught three passes last year but has barely seen the playing field in 2009, despite the fact that Georgia has routinely employed only three receivers.

“I would say he’s right on the verge of breaking through,” Richt said of Troupe’s progress. “I like how he’s been practicing. I like the effort that he’s putting forth. He knows what to do. The coaches have just determined that other guys should be playing ahead of him right now.”

Richt said a combination of cool weather, long TV timeouts and a number of short drives have allowed the team to get by using just its top three receivers, with only a few rare appearances by Troupe and freshmen Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten.

That could change this year with No. 2 receiver Tavarres King expected to miss Georgia’s date with Tennessee due to a concussion he suffered last week. King’s absence could open the door to Troupe for the first time this season, and Richt said that might be all it takes to make the sophomore a regular part of the offense.

“Sometimes that’s all a guy needs is a chance,” Richt said, “and if he gets it, hopefully he’ll do well.”

READY AND WAITING

Logan Gray hasn’t seen much action at quarterback this season, but he is getting a healthy dose of life atop the depth chart in practice. Gray has handled all of the first-team reps each Wednesday, while starter Joe Cox rests an injured shoulder.

The extra work in practice has been a boon to Gray’s confidence and knowledge, he said.
“It’s benefited me a lot just to get more and more reps,” Gray said. “I feel like starting from the beginning, I’ve gotten more and more comfortable. I feel like it has me more ready to get in the game.”

Gray has been in on just three snaps at quarterback so far this season, despite repeated discussions by the coaching staff this preseason that the sophomore could be a valuable weapon as an athletic change-of-pace under center.

“Obviously our coaches know what they’re doing, and we have tons of different stuff we put in each week, but it’s one of those things where situations call for different things,” Gray said. “I was hoping maybe (he’d get more playing time), but it’s worked out how it’s worked out, and I’m just going to keep on practicing and see what happens.”

Part of the issue, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said, has been the particularly close games Georgia has played so far. While Bobo said he’s been impressed with Gray’s growth throughout the season, Cox still holds a distinct advantage in his ability to run the offense.

“I think (Gray) has an understanding of it, but I don’t think he understands it as fully as Joe Cox,” Bobo said. “But like I’ve said in the past, getting reps every week with the ones, it has definitely improved his confidence level. It’s still not a lot of game experience, which you’d worry about, but if he had to go in there I think he could execute and help us win a game.”

IT COULD’VE BEEN WORSE

Quarterback Joe Cox admits it is a bit ironic.

For four weeks, Georgia turned the ball over three times in every game, yet managed to win three of the four.

Each week, the team preached about protecting the football, and finally the lesson took hold against LSU. Georgia didn’t cough up the ball until Cox’s final throw of the game – a heave toward the sideline as the clock ticked and Georgia desperately needed to move the football. Yet, despite the reduced turnovers, Georgia came up on the wrong end of the final score.

It is an odd twist, Cox said, but it’s by no means a lesson that turnovers are acceptable.

“That’s one of the reasons we were in the ballgame,” Cox said of the improved ball protection. “If we’d have turned the ball over, it could have gotten ugly. Three-and-outs are going to happen, mind you we didn’t want to have that many in the first half. But we didn’t do anything dumb with the ball, and we kind of waited for our chance to get things going.”

LIGHTER ON HIS FEET

Senior defensive tackle Kade Weston has started the past two games for Georgia, and he’s responded with two strong efforts, including a five-tackle, two-sack performance against LSU last week.

The keys to Weston’s success, he said, have been a combination of an injury-free season and a slimmed-down physique. Weston lost about 15 pounds and is finally playing at a weight his coaches had hoped for.

“It’s a lot different now,” Weston said. “Coaches wanted me at 315, and I’ve been around there the whole season, and I think it shows on the field.”

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?

Mark Richt admits the term “identity” is overused a bit, but he also admits it’s hard to really quantify just what his offense is capable of this season.

Some weeks, the unit has been spectacular. Some week, it’s been awful. Against LSU last week, the offense was as bad as it’s been all year in the first half, then looked incredibly sharp during a second-half comeback.

“I guess no one has an identity until they are consistently playing something where you could define that team to say this is what we do well,” Richt said. “Right now we’ve not been consistent offensively, defensively or in the kicking game quite frankly. I feel like we are gaining a lot of positive momentum defensively. Some of our special teams have played outstanding and a couple have struggled. Offensively, we’ve pretty much run the gamut of emotions and productivity. Again, I guess the one word I’m looking for more than anything else is a more consistent effort all the way around.”

RUBBING IT IN

Just a final side note for the day.

I was wearing my Newhouse t-shirt to Richt's news conference today -- Newhouse being the name of the Syracuse communications school.

Richt looked at the shirt and asked if it was a Syracuse shirt. I said that it was, and he asked what Newhouse meant.

"Did they get a new stadium or something?" he said.

"No," I told him, assuming he was serious and not simply making a sly joke at the embarrassing level of Syracuse football. "It's the name of the journalism school there."

"Ah," he said. "So, do they still have that basketball player playing quarterback?"

That's when I figured he was, in fact, making a sly joke about the embarrassing level of Syracuse football. Either that, or he's awfully good at unintentional humor.

Good times. Go Orange.

8 comments:

Russ said...

Chad Gloer? Really? That's our answer to our kick team coverage woes?

Dang...we're worse off than I thought.

Just once, I'd love to see Rennie busing up a wedge. That would be beautiful!

Russ said...

"busting"

It kind of neuters the sarcasm in my post. Oh well.

DRM said...

Who decides who is on the special teams , Fabris or Richt???

And about Logan... 1st-we are not losing because of Joe Cox so benching him is not the answer... And Joe as our starting qb is just fine... BUT...
For a staff that used to sub in a qb with-in the first 4 drives of the game, why would have Logan not played in the first half last week?? When we had about 8 yards!!
And why does Bobo say, we would have liked to have played him more but didnt because aaron murray got hurt... Seriously .... someone ask Bobo that question and if he responds the same way... Then why is Logan on the kick-off coverage team??? Because that is telling the Bulldog nation that 1+1=3 .. Just be straight forward with everyone because these half honest responses are getting old... Maybe Bobo didnt take "Learning to Learn" in the ROTC building to serious back in the day... Cause these answers arent adding up..

Ubiquitous GA Alum said...

Gloer has 3 tackles for the year ...

jferg said...

DH,
We have two (that i know of) KOR teams-- Regular Return and the "Hands" team for onside kicks.

Do we have multipe KO teams? If not, why? Shouldn't we have a Regular KO and also a "ridiculously nasty we really need a stop" KO team full of our 2-deep DB's and LB's? We wouldn't play them often but to have that team when we really need it--like end of LSU game--would be an easy fix. Right? Thoughts?

David Hale said...

jferg -- yes, there are multiple "teams" but really it's mostly the same 7-8 guys on each KO with a few others that rotate. Richt (and Fabris) believes that special teams require X amount of practice time and study and the guys who are devoting themselves to their scrimmage down positions don't, apparently, have that time to give. For example, look at the tradeoff between special teams practice and QB practice Gray was forced to make last year. So Richt really won't throw a unit out there that hasn't practiced it, and there's no unit that includes the starters from offense/defense who has practiced it.

Wade Wilson said...

We have a failure of a special teams philosophy. It's pathetic.

jferg said...

Thanks for the answer... I'm saddened that this ST unit in 2009 is the "we're going to really focus on that this offseason" group that is supposed to be new and improved over last year's group. If it's not coaching, maybe our players need to take responsibility. I'd like for you to ask Rennie what he is going to do, as THE leader of the team, to fix the problem. Maybe we need a grassroots movement from the players?