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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Notes: Defense Could Be Mixed Bag in '10

Under most circumstances, Mark Richt keeps a positive attitude, but even he isn’t laboring under the delusions that a new coordinator and a new scheme will immediately turn Georgia’s defense into a national powerhouse. It’s going to be a work in progress, he said, but there are reasons for optimism.

“I’m excited about the defense, but there’s going to be a learning curve,” Richt said of Todd Grantham’s new scheme. “Quite frankly, Todd’s the only one who really knows what’s going on. We’ve got the right guys, but they’re all learning, too.”

Richt said he expects a few miscues here and there while players pick up on the scheme and Grantham gets a better feel for his personnel. But while mistakes are bound to happen, Richt also thinks the aggressive style of the 3-4 scheme can help the Bulldogs – who generated a league-worst 12 takeaways last season – create a few more mistakes by the opposition, too.

“The 3-4 is a good aggressive, attacking style and it’s one where we have enough personnel to run it effectively,” Richt said. “The question is, how well will we do it, how many mistakes will we make along the way, and when we make the mistakes, what’s it going to cost us? On the other end, hopefully we’re going to pressure people enough to get them to turn the ball over more than we did a year ago.”

Richt said the game plan for now is to build a foundation this summer, then throw as much of the new defensive playbook at the players as possible during the first few weeks of fall camp. About two weeks before the season opener, coaches will pare down the plays and come up with a game plan that will hopefully be a bit easier to implement on game day. For now, however, Richt said he’s taking more solace in the impressive approach his coaches and players have shown this offseason and worrying less about the new scheme.

“It’s not so much what you run as how you run it,” Richt said. “I think Todd has got a presence about him that guys respect, and I think we’re going to get after it.”


Richt has been asked a few hundred times this offseason about his expectations for freshman quarterback Aaron Murray. His answer is always the same. Murray needs to play it safe, protect the football and avoid trying to be a hero.

But if fans have heard the same refrain from Richt over and over, Murray said it’s a lesson he doesn’t need reinforced. He gets it.

“What Coach Richt always says is respect the football,” Murray said. “That’s pretty much the main goal going into this year is not to be a superstar or make spectacular plays. It’s to respect the football, make plays, make first downs, just utilize the great weapons I have around me.”

That’s the upside to Murray’s on-the-job training this season. While he’ll fill the often problematic role of freshman starting quarterback, he’ll be surrounded by 10 returning starters, the most experienced offensive line in the country and an All-American receiver to sling the ball to.

“Great plays are going to happen just by ordinary plays because of the athletes we have around us,” Murray said. “You can give a 10-yard curl to A.J. Green and he’s going to turn it into a 40 or 50-yard play. Me respecting the ball and making the right decisions is just letting those guys do the dirty work. I’ve just got to be smart.”

Perhaps the downside to that arrangement, however, is that a bit more might be expected of Murray than most freshman quarterbacks. With so much talent around him, the spotlight is squarely focused on the new guy – but that’s OK with Murray, too.

“It takes a little pressure off just because I can rely on those guys,” Murray said. “We’re not going to go into games where the whole game is going to be on my shoulders. We’re going to have a great running game and we’ll have some great receivers and some great tight ends. It’s nice to have the guys around me who can make plays so I don’t have to be a superstar.”


Fans weren’t the only ones scratching their head when Georgia released the results of the team’s offseason combine earlier this month – results that included some eye-popping numbers like the 4.29 second 40-yard dash time for linebacker Cornelius Washington.

“I didn’t believe it,” fellow linebacker Justin Houston said. “When they told me I said that wasn’t true. I went to the coaches and asked about it, and they told me it was true. I was shocked he ran that time.”

The remarkable time likely wouldn’t count as official among NFL scouts because the run was clocked by hand, but that doesn’t change the fact that, at 250 pounds, Washington still outran many of his fleet-footed teammates by a wide margin. So while the 4.29 might come with an asterisk, Houston said there’s still every reason to see big things in Washington’s future.

“I can see him being a breakout guy,” Houston said. “He can help this team in many ways and I hope he does.”


Murray has never taken a snap on game day, and he’s still got his nose in the playbook whenever possible trying to firm up his grasp on the offense. But despite his novice status, he’s tasked with a job most freshmen quarterbacks aren’t given: Mentor.

Despite his lack of experience, Murray is the most veteran quarterback on the roster, which means he has had to take true freshman Hutson Mason under his wing this summer. As it turns out, Murray has found the additional responsibility to be a good experience all around.

“It’s definitely weird,” Murray said. “I’m still learning the playbook. I know it pretty well, but there’s still tons of stuff to learn and engrave in my mind. But I feel the more I teach them, the better I learn the offense. If you’re able to teach it, it really shows how much you’ve learned. So I feel like it’s not only beneficial to him but beneficial to me, too.”

So just how much progress has Mason made in his first few weeks on campus? That’s tough to tell, Murray said, but so far far, the so-called veteran likes what he sees from the new guy.

“It’s just like with me where it’s going to be a learning curve to learn the playbook,” Murray said. “But he’s willing to put in the time. I make up little quizzes for them and test them on what they can do on the field, and he’s done a tremendous job of picking things up. So I’m pretty much in charge of him over the summer and his learning progress, and I’m going to make sure he knows as much as he can so that the first day of camp, (offensive coordinator Mike) Bobo will be pleased with his progress.”


The post-spring depth chart yielded a few surprises, including Vance Cuff’s rise to the top spot at cornerback, ahead of sophomore phenom Branden Smith. And while that may be a testament to Cuff’s quick adjustment to the scheme of first-year secondary coach Scott Lakatos, fellow corner Brandon Boykin said it’s probably not worth reading too much into who runs with the first team and who plays with the second just yet.

“It’s just kind of like giving you an idea of who is where, but we still have to go through the fall and summer and freshmen coming in,” Boykin said. “With things like that, you really don’t know.”

The good news, Boykin said, is that while a starter may not have emerged yet, Georgia has at least two good options who both have a strong grasp of what they’re doing in the defensive backfield.

“Both of them are looking really good,” Boykin said. “Branden and Cuff, they both can play each position—wide, short and nickel – so we’re just really trying to see what the strengths of each and every person here so I think coach Lakatos can see what we’re doing in the summer and put people there in the fall.”


While A.J. Green has graced the cover of numerous magazines and earned plenty of preseason hype as a potential All-American, he hasn’t been the most talked-about receiver in Georgia’s locker room. That honor goes to Tavarres King.

The sophomore receiver has bulked up during the offseason and has turned plenty of heads during summer workouts.

“The main person I’ve seen improve the most is TK,” Boykin said. “I remember guarding him last year—I mean you can just tell his releases are a lot quicker and he’s working with his hands a lot better.”

King has added almost 10 pounds of muscle to his frame after working with a personal trainer in Atlanta following spring practice and changing his diet after working with team nutritionist Rex Bradberry.

“It’s a physical sport,” receiver Kris Durham said. “You’ve got to have speed and all the intangibles, but you have to have your strength, too, and he’s working on that.”

The results for King have been obvious, both on and away from the field, Murray said.

“I was actually talking to him the other day, and he told me, ‘Let’s have a big year,’ and he pumping me up, I’m pumping him up,” Murray said. “He’s worked extremely hard in the weight room getting bigger. He went to some big-time trainer, and he’s done a tremendous job of really getting strong for the season. All the guys look great, but especially him.”


When Matthew Stafford arrived at Georgia, he was part of a four-man battle for the starting quarterback job that lasted well into fall camp. When Stafford left prior to last season, senior Joe Cox was immediately anointed the starter without much competition for the job.

Neither situation met with great results, and Richt admits that naming a starter in advance doesn’t always provide a team with a big advantage, but he’s nevertheless pleased that Murray will get a shot to prove his mettle this offseason as the nominal starter.

“I don’t know if it’s problematic one way or another, but I do think it’s good for Aaron to know he’s the leader of this group for the summer,” Richt said. ‘It gives him an opportunity to take charge, and I really believe our veterans are going to rally around him.”


It comes with the territory each offseason, but just because each year players tout a new focus and a sharper attitude, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not true this time around. Or at least that’s what Boykin says.

“People kind of seeing what we did last year aren’t really expecting us to do anything special this year,” Boykin said of his defense. “We know we have the talent to do it. I just feel like we have something to prove coming off that 8-5 season last year. I feel like everybody just has that oomph about them, wanting to prove what we know we’re capable of doing. I really feel that difference. It’s not kind of laid back, as it was (last year).”

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