There’s no doubt, Rod Battle said, he’d much rather be playing in Monday’s Independence Bowl against Texas A&M. But the senior defensive tackle has still managed to be a crucial part of the action in the lead up to the game, despite an ACL injury that cost him most of his final season with the Bulldogs.
Battle has worked as the de facto defensive ends coach after Jon Fabris was dismissed from the position earlier this month. While Rodney Garner has been in charge of the full defensive line, Battle has stepped up to oversee practice drills and work with the players as they prepare for the Aggies.
“I feel more like a coach now,” Battle said. “But it’s nothing different than what we did in the summer time, so it hasn’t been a shock or anything like that.”
Battle said he had considered going into coaching in the future, but despite his experience this month with the Bulldogs, he’s not ready to completely give up his dreams on the football field just yet. In fact, coaching isn’t even a fall-back plan just yet.
“If I have a shot to play professionally, that would be my No. 1 goal,” said Battle, who is still rehabbing the knee injury and isn’t sure if he’ll participate in Georgia’s pro day workouts in the spring. “I would like to work with sports, but I don’t know if I want to coach right away, but I might want to try the business side of things first.”
Battle graduated in December with a degree in sports management, and he said working in sports administration would be his first choice for future careers away from the field. But the experience of coaching his former teammates this month has provided him with some better context for the work a coach does – and the frustrations that come with the job.
“I can see why coaches get so frustrated now,” Battle said. “When you see somebody mess up, you get upset. But when you go over something and they get it right, it’s a good feeling.”
HE CAN SYMPATHIZE
Texas A&M defensive coordinator Joe Kines’ last visit to the Independence Bowl was in 2006, when he served as Alabama’s interim head coach after Mike Shula was fired. The experience gave him a little sympathy for what his counterpart on the opposite sideline must be going through this season.
Kines and Garner worked together for a year on Jim Donnan’s staff at Georgia, but even without a personal relationship, Kines would feel for Garner, who has worked as the Bulldogs’ de facto defensive coordinator this month after Willie Martinez was fired.
But the biggest lesson Kines learned from his experience – a 34-31 loss to Oklahoma State – was that no one takes it easy on a coach just because he’s in a bad situation this time of year, and he doesn’t expect Garner to anticipate anything different.
“In this business, sometimes things happen this time of year,” Kines said. “Bowl games sometimes, those things happen and you just play yourself out of it.”
THE GAME PLAN ON D
With Garner and two graduate assistants handling the defense against A&M, things will be a bit different than normal on game day.
Garner and fill-in linebackers coach Mitch Doolittle will be on the field for the game and will be in charge of calling plays for the defense. Todd Hartley, who has handled the defensive backs since Martinez’s dismissal, will be in the press box for the game, Richt said.
Despite all the shake-ups this month, Richt said the defense has been sharp in practice, which he said is a tribute to the energy and focus of the players.
“If the players didn’t want to take on the challenge and buy into what we were trying to do I think it would have been very difficult,” Richt said. “Guys like Jeff (Owens) and a lot of our leaders really took the responsibility to make this thing work. Coach (Rodney) Garner, coach (Mitch) Doolittle and Todd Hartley took a lot of hours and spent a lot of time to put the plan together, but the plan is designed for the players. This game is not as much about the coaches as it is about the players. I think they’ve done a nice job of putting the players in the position to make the plays.”
BIG IN THE BOWLS
In his eight previous trips to a bowl game, Richt has enjoyed his fair share of success. He has won six bowl games in his career, including the past three.
So what’s the secret to his postseason success?
“We really spend all of our time practicing for our opponent. We want to focus on getting prepared for who we’re going to play, and I think that’s a big part of it,” Richt said. “But I think our players want to see the seniors leave on a high note.”
While some teams use the bowl as an early start to the following season and others may lack an emotional edge after a long season, Richt said he has always put a lot of focus on finishing with a win. That won’t be any different against Texas A&M, which Richt said provides a big challenge to his team.
“We’ve prepared for and we want to win this game for our seniors,” Richt said. “We want to win this game for the 2009 season. It’s the finish of this year. A lot of people talk about it catapulting you into the future. We don’t really spend time talking about that. We talk about this year. We talk about finishing strong for this season and this group of seniors. That’s what our main focus is. I think our guys will be very excited about playing because they have a lot of respect for Texas A&M.”
EIGHT IS ENOUGH
More than just getting one last win for the seniors, safety Bryan Evans said he wants Georgia to topple A&M to ensure the 2009 season isn’t remembered for being a remarkably disappointing one after a 7-5 regular season.
“We want to go out with an eight-win season,” Evans said. “Eight wins sounds way better than seven wins. I’ve never been on a losing team here, and not that a seven-win season is a losing season, but eight wins sounds way better.”
Senior Vince Vance is expected to get the start at right tackle for Georgia against A&M on Monday. Junior Josh Davis, who started the final six regular-season games, suffered an ankle injury during practice earlier this month, and despite Richt’s optimism that he could play, the odds are that Davis won’t see the field.
“Josh is available to play, but he’s not as far along as we hoped he was,” Richt said.
The only other significant injury this week belonged to defensive end Demarcus Dobbs, who was limited with an ankle injury, but Richt expects the junior to be ready to go against the Aggies.
“I think Dobbs will show up to play,” Richt said. “He’s always got a little something, but he’s the kind of kid who’ll play.”
Sunday, December 27, 2009
There’s no doubt, Rod Battle said, he’d much rather be playing in Monday’s Independence Bowl against Texas A&M. But the senior defensive tackle has still managed to be a crucial part of the action in the lead up to the game, despite an ACL injury that cost him most of his final season with the Bulldogs.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Growing up, one of Bacarri Rambo’s idols was a local football player named Brandon Register, who went on to play safety at UAB. Register was ahead of Rambo at Seminole County and had a reputation as being one of the hardest hitters in the state. It was a style Rambo always hoped to emulate.
“When I was little, I used to always look up to the older guys, especially him,” Rambo said. “They used to be like, ‘That guy hits so hard, he knocks himself out out there.’ I was like, ‘Man, I want to try that one day.’”
Rambo did just that against Auburn last month, breaking up a reception late in the fourth quarter with a bone-crunching hit and knocking himself unconscious in the process.
The result – beyond the game-saving pass break-up – was a concussion that cost him the final two games of the regular season and the realization that perhaps knocking himself out making a tackle was a rather silly objective for a young football player.
“I didn’t know it was going to come against Auburn,” Rambo said. “I thought I’d do it in high school or something. And I don’t want that to happen anymore. That was a bad experience.”
Rambo remembers little of the play, but he said he’s watched replays on television several times since it happened.
“I watch it every time it comes on,” he said. “People will call me and say the Auburn game’s on. I turn to it and I’m like, ‘I still don’t remember that play. What happened?’ It’s just crazy, really.”
When Rambo checked out of the hospital the next day, he found 150 friend requests on his Facebook page, about 50 emails from well-wishers and more than 30 missed calls from friends and family. The support was incredible, he said.
But his recovery really wasn’t particularly painful. Rambo experienced headaches for about two weeks after the hit, which is what kept him sidelined against Kentucky and Georgia Tech. But it was the time away from football that really hurt.
“I wasn’t dizzy or sensitive to lights and noises, but I was having headaches,” he said. “After Georgia Tech week, my headaches went away and I was ready to play.”
Rambo said he has no lingering symptoms of the concussion and beginning Wednesday he was a full participant in practice – no green non-contact jerseys and no concerns about the injury. He’s simply happy to be back to work.
“It’s been a month since I played football and I’m anxious to get back out there and do my thing and play football with the fellas,” Rambo said. “I’m going to go out there and do all I can to support the seniors and this team.”
IN ROD WE TRUST
Georgia may be down three defensive coaches after Willie Martinez, Jon Fabris and John Jancek were dismissed earlier this month, but the defensive ends may have picked up a de facto assistant in the meantime.
Senior Rod Battle is out for the season with a knee injury and is scheduled to graduate Friday, but in the meantime he’s spending his final few weeks in Athens helping his teammates prepare for their bowl game against Texas A&M, picking up right where Fabris left off.
“Rod has always been a guy with great technique, so I think it’s real easy for him to teach us,” defensive end Justin Houston said.
NO RASH DECISIONS
Linebacker Darryl Gamble said his teammates haven’t spent much time discussing the potential replacements for Martinez at defensive coordinator, but he wouldn’t be surprised if he gets his chance to weigh in on the final decision before it’s made.
“Coach (Mark) Richt is pretty open, and I think he’ll bring in a couple older guys, a few other upperclassmen, to see what we think,” Gamble said. “He always says it’s the seniors’ team.”
Richt said Wednesday that he was in no rush to make a hire, but expected a decision would be made by the first week in January. That’s fine with Gamble – even if he doesn’t get to add his two cents on who the eventual hire is.
“If he makes his decision, we’re behind him 100 percent, but I think he’ll try to get a little feedback from us before he makes his decision,” Gamble said.
NOT FEELING THE PRESSURE
On paper, it looks like an ugly mismatch for the Bulldogs. Georgia’s defense is shorthanded, preparing for the bowl without three defensive coaches. Texas A&M’s offense is dangerous, ranked first in the Big 12 and fifth nationally in total offense.
That might be a sign of a shootout, but offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said he’s not worrying about keeping pace with a potentially high-flying Aggies offense. After all, he said, expectations rarely match reality.
“Every time you think it’s going to be low-scoring, it ends up being a shootout, and every time you think it’s going to be a shootout, it ends up being low-scoring,” Bobo said. “We just have to prepare for what they do, get our guys ready to play and execute on the 28th when we play them.”
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
After more than a month on the sidelines, the news finally appears a bit brighter for tailback Caleb King.
The sophomore running back has been out with a sore hamstring since Aug. 12, but head coach Mark Richt said he practiced fully each of the past two days and his prospects for playing Saturday against Arkansas look good.
“It looks like very probable,” Richt said. “I’d be surprised if he didn’t play at this point.”
Richt said he couldn’t guess how many reps King is likely to play, but he said the addition to the running back depth chart, currently manned by Richard Samuel and Carlton Thomas, would be a benefit for the Georgia offense.
“It’s going to help us because he’s definitely a different style of runner,” Richt said. “I’m anxious to see what he can do. He’s always had good vision, good balance and he’s got to be pretty fresh.”
Samuel has been the go-to runner for Georgia in the first two games of the season, getting 20 carries against Oklahoma State and 15 against South Carolina.
It’s expected that Samuel will continue to handle the bulk of the load, but Richt said the return of King will allow the team to spread the carries out a bit more than it had previously.
“The tailback position is set for us now where we’re not going to ask just one kid to carry the entire load, so they’ll be able to help each other out,” Richt said.
GOING BACK INSIDE
Senior defensive tackles Geno Atkins and Jeff Owens saw plenty of action at an unfamiliar position in Georgia’s first two games, but their experiment at defensive end might be coming to an end.
With the return of Justin Houston from a two-game suspension, Richt said he didn’t expect the Bulldogs would need to use Atkins or Owens, who totaled around 50 reps at end during the first two games, to work off the edge as much going forward.
“I doubt we see them much out there,” Richt said, “but it depends on how the game goes.”
Atkins said he didn’t mind the transition, but he said he’ll be happy to get back to doing what he does best and leaving the surprisingly tough task of defensive end to the players who’ve been doing it a bit longer.
“I had to keep the contain, look for the reverse and focus my eyes on the quarterback to see if he takes it and runs with it or gives it to the running back,” Atkins said. “Now I know what the D ends are going through because they’ve got so much responsibility.”
WILLIAMS BACK AT WORK
After missing last week’s game against South Carolina with a hamstring injury, linebacker Nick Williams said he’ll be available for duty this week.
“It’s good now,” Williams said. “I’m back.”
Williams said the injury occurred in Georgia’s first game against Oklahoma State when he was jamming receiver Dez Bryant and felt a pull, and he immediately knew it was his fault he was hurt.
“I’m bad at stretching,” Williams said. “I never did it in high school, so they’ve had me on a strict stretching program now.”
THE BIGGER THEY ARE…
At 6-foot-7, Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett will be one of the biggest targets Georgia’s defense has faced in a while, but Rennie Curran said he’s not too concerned.
Curran said the biggest quarterback he could remember facing previously was Kentucky’s Andre Woodson, who was 6-5, in 2007.
In that game, Georgia had five sacks, which reinforced Curran’s philosophy about big quarterbacks.
“They’re all the same to me,” Curran said. “They all throw the ball, they just fall harder than others.”
THE BATTLE’S OVER
After defensive end Rod Battle went down with a season-ending knee injury, Richt was hopeful the senior might be able to apply for a sixth year of eligibility, but it appears that’s unlikely, and Battle’s career with Georgia could be over.
“My guess would be that he would not because his first (redshirt) year there was no injury involved in the red shirt,” Richt said. “You have to miss two seasons because of injury, and we have no documentation to help him with that.”
Branden Smith knows he didn’t instill a lot of confidence in his coaches on his first few attempts at returning kicks. Against Oklahoma State, he twice brought the ball out from deep in the end zone, and on his first return against South Carolina resulted in a fumble that set up a field goal for the Gamecocks.
But rather than give up on the freshman, coach Tony Ball sent him back out again, and Smith rewarded him with a 48-yard return to set the Bulldogs up with prime field position.
“I think it is a good thing that Coach Ball has confidence in me knowing that I have made a couple of bad plays,” Smith said. “At Oklahoma State I ran deep from the end zone and fumbled against South Carolina. By him putting me back out there I think that is a very good thing.”
ANOTHER ROUGH DAY
For the second straight practice, Richt said his team lacked much enthusiasm on the field, but he said he’s not concerned that the team will lack energy by game day.
“Today we were a little lethargic, I thought. There was not a ton of energy, but we grinded and we got it done. I think the boys are probably a little bit tired, but that’s the beauty of Thursday and Friday.”
Saturday, August 29, 2009
With all the new faces on offense this year, head coach Mark Richt might like to have a little time to break in the rookies and get a feel for how the unit functions before taking off the training wheels.
With high-powered Oklahoma State looming in Georgia’s first game of the season, however, that’s a luxury Richt said Georgia can’t afford.
“We’ve got to turn it loose,” Richt said. “We can’t sit there and think too much. We’ve got to let them all play, put them in a position to make plays, and hopefully they will.”
The combination of Oklahoma State’s quick-strike ability and potentially sizzling temperatures in Stillwater for the game, Richt said he’ll have little choice but to put his young players on the field and give them a chance to make an impact.
That list of new faces includes first-year starting tailback Richard Samuel, two freshmen tight ends in Orson Charles and Arthur Lynch, and freshmen receivers Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten, along with first-year starting quarterback Joe Cox. With so many inexperienced players on the field, there are plenty of questions for Richt and his staff, but he said the Bulldogs aren’t planning to wait long to find out who’s ready for the job.
“If you’re not quite sure of all your personnel, you’re more apt to make sure the right guys are getting the ball, which is not as much fun as a coordinator,” Richt said. “When you’re sitting there going, ‘Well, so-and-so is in the game, so I’ve got to do this or that,’ I hope that we don’t have to do that. We’re not going into this game saying that’s what we’re going to do because we feel like we’ve got to let these guys go out there and make plays.”
If there’s an upside, however, it’s that so much transition can affect both sides of the ball.
While all the changes on offense make game planning for the opener a tricky task for Georgia’s play callers, it also complicates the job for Oklahoma State’s defense, Richt said.
“I’m sure they’re sitting there not sure who’s going to be where or who’s going to make plays or who we’re going to put in position to make plays,” Richt said. “The only thing they probably know for sure is A.J. Green. Other than that, they’re probably guessing a little bit.”
Saturday’s practice marked the official end of the preseason, with the focus Monday shifting entirely to Oklahoma State as Georgia begins its usual practice routine leading up to a game.
While not every question the coaches had entering fall practice has been answered, Richt said there’s no mistaking the improvements he has seen in the preparation his team has gotten this preseason.
“By a long shot, we were able to prepare the way we normally like to in terms of the number of days we scrimmage and tackle to the ground and every single day in inside drill was live tackling,” Richt said.
The biggest different, Richt said, has been a reduced number of injuries. While a number of players missed some action with minor hamstring injuries, there haven’t been any catastrophic injuries similar to what occurred last preseason.
The result has been an increased focus on the fundamentals – particularly tackling. Richt said in addition to the tackling during scrimmages and inside drills, the team added tackle work to perimeter drills as well – a new addition from past seasons.
“It’s a world of difference when you look at how many times we were in pads and tackled to the ground,” Richt said.
STILL WAITING ON O LINE
Offensive linemen Ben Jones and Chris Davis both missed practice again Saturday, each recovering from ankle sprains that Richt said shouldn’t cost them any playing time.
“I expect Ben to be practicing Monday, and Chris I’m not certain,” Richt said. “Ben might do everything, but my guess would be just scout work. Chris may be ready for scout work, too, I’m just not sure.”
For the second straight day, Kevin Perez handled the first-team snaps at center, and while the 265-pound junior might be a bit overmatched in size, Richt said he’s confident that Perez can get the job done if called upon.
“Perez knows what to do, his body just didn’t get as big as he would hope and we would hope it would,” Richt said. “But he’s very smart, he’s been tremendous in our meeting rooms, and now that he’s had this opportunity to play, he’s done a very admirable job. We could certainly function with him.”
Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said the depth chart in his secondary has taken shape, and it’s not exactly what Richt had discussed earlier this week.
Bryan Evans and Reshad Jones will be the starting safeties, with Brandon Boykin and Prince Miller the starting corners. Behind them, Sanders Commings, Baccari Rambo and Makiri Pugh will handle reserve duties at safety, with Branden Smith and Vance Cuff the first two corners off the bench.
Richt had suggested that Pugh and linebacker Nick Williams might handle the bulk of the work at nickelback, but Martinez indicated that role would actually belong to Miller, with either Cuff or Smith filling in at corner.
Smith’s emergence this preseason has been particularly impressive, Martinez said, given his mix of immense athletic ability and strong work ethic.
“He’s a very competitive player,” Martinez said of the freshman cornerback. “He’s a worker. He’s a fast learner. He’s always trying to do his best. He’s got a great attitude and with his ability, he’s coming on. He’s getting better.”
As to Georgia’s other two freshmen defensive backs, the news is a bit more tepid.
Cornerback Jordan Love has been limited in practice for the past week due to a toe injury, and the reduced reps have been a setback.
Safety Shawn Williams, on the other hand, has gotten more looks than expected due to some other injuries at his position, but Martinez said Williams still isn’t close to being where he needs to be to earn significant playing time on game day.
“We like him, but how much he’ll play this year, right now, that’s undetermined,” Martinez said. “He’s got a ways to go. But that’s expected for a young kid, particularly at safety, which is pretty difficult.”
PASS RUSH PROJECTIONS
With Justin Houston suspended for the first two games of the season, Martinez pronounced Demarcus Dobbs and Rod Battle the starters for Oklahoma State – a move that hardly comes as a surprise given the lack of experience further down the depth chart.
Martinez said Dobbs and Battle have both looked good, but the challenge now will be finding players who can fill in as backups consistently.
“Those are the two guys with a tremendous amount of experience, and they’ve been doing a good job,” Martinez said. “The other group of guys are just mixing in there trying to develop the depth. Some guys are getting better.”
FAST AND FURIOUS
Georgia ran through a final scrimmage against the scout teams Saturday, albeit a particularly regimented one.
Richt said the Bulldogs’ first-team offense and defense each ran 20 scripted plays against the scout team, and each of the six kicking units took three reps apiece. Some goal-line and short-yardage work involved tackling, but the majority of the practice was thud drills.
While the workout was brief, Richt said the team got what it needed from the practice.
“We had what I hoped we’d have today – a situation scrimmage that was thud the majority of the plays where we got good tempo, the sense of a game where you have to substitute,” Richt said. “It was good energy. We had 20 plays on each side of the ball. It was spirited, it was organized.”
Georgia returns to practice Monday, and will spend the first two days of the week in full pads. The Bulldogs will go to shorts and shoulder pads Wednesday and Thursday, then have an off day Friday before the game.
According to Jeff Owens' Twitter feed, he found a nice note in his locker after coming off the practice field Saturday. It was an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game. Next up, according to Owens, is a similar invite to the Senior Bowl.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The spotlight was on Georgia's tailbacks during the Bulldogs' first scrimmage of the fall Wednesday, and sophomore Richard Samuel didn't disappoint.
Samuel stole the show with a series of impressive runs, totaling 108 yards on five carries, two of which went for touchdowns, and adding another 70-yard reception for a score.
"He ran the ball well," head coach Mark Richt said. "He definitely had more space to work with than any other back, but he broke some tackles also. He finished strong."
Samuel saw minimal playing time in a backup role a season ago, showing flashing of potential, but had trouble picking up extra yards downfield at times.
While Richt said Samuel benefited from some big holes at the line of scrimmage Wednesday, a great deal of his production came on moves the sophomore made in the open field, including a few impressive maneuvers on a 63-yard touchdown dash.
"We were running off of the right side of the line and it kind of got congested," Richt said. "He broke it back across the grain and got vertical. He either made a safety miss or stiff-armed him and then made the last guy miss."
Samuel had the majority of the carries with Georgia's No. 1 offense, Richt said, while his primary competition for the starting tailback job, Caleb King, split time between the first- and second-team offense. King finished the day with just 18 yards on five carries.
Georgia's other running backs met with mixed results as well. Carlton Thomas tallied 60 yards on five carries, including a long run of 28 yards, while Dontavius Jackson ran four times and lost six yards. Freshman Washaun Ealey added just 13 yards on five carries, but Richt cautioned fans not to read too much into the final statistics.
"You can get a pretty good gauge of who ran with the No. 1 offensive line and who ran with the No. 2s," he said.
NOT ALL GOOD NEWS
As impressive as Samuel's scrimmage stats were, the sophomore is still having some problems holding on to the football.
One of Samuel's most impressive runs of the scrimmage came on a third-down play in which he darted through the line of scrimmage for a first down and a long gain. The play ended with Samuel coughing up the football, however, and that's something Richt won't tolerate in a starting tailback.
Richt said the fumble may have been the first of the fall for Samuel, but after the tailback struggled with the same problem as a freshman a year ago, it's an issue he needs to resolve quickly.
"Right now I would think the incentive of playing time would really help him hold on to the ball," Richt said. "That's probably the only thing that will keep him from getting a substantial amount of playing time is just being a guy who fumbles."
After Georgia's coaches have a chance to break down the film from Wednesday's scrimmage, Richt said he expects the depth chart at tailback to be reshuffled a bit, with two or three of the top performers to be moved to the front of the pack. Although Richt cautions that his evaluations won't be all about the numbers.
"When we evaluate, we will put more on a scrimmage than we do on any other grading system," Richt said. "This is as live as we can get, as real as we can get. So the scrimmages mean a lot, but we do understand when one guy's got a lot of space and other guys don't."
While the new-look depth chart will likely be a hot topic among fans, Richt said he's not overly concerned with who has earned starting jobs just yet. The bigger issue for him is finding enough depth that Georgia won't have to worry about employing a back-up from time to time.
"I don't particularly care who's No. 1 today or tomorrow," Richt said. "I'm looking for guys that are ready to play. I'm not even looking for starters. I'm looking for guys that, if we put them in the game, they could function at winning football. That's really and truly all I'm concerned about right now."
Beyond tailback, the biggest position battle on the roster may be for the No. 2 quarterback job, a position to which sophomore Logan Gray continues to stake his claim.
Gray was the top performer among Georgia's backup quarterbacks Wednesday, completing 6-of-12 passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns, going mostly against Georgia's No. 2 defense. While Gray has continued to impress, however, Richt said the second spot on the depth chart is still an open competition.
"He's done a nice job, and I would say he's still a solid No. 2 but Aaron (Murray) has done some nice things," Richt said.
Murray finished the scrimmage 5-of-16 for 52 yards and a touchdown, while fellow freshman Zach Mettenberger completed just 1-of-10 passing.
Mettenberger's performance was as much a function of some problems with the No. 2 offensive line, Richt said, which has made it tough to evaluate the freshman's overall ability.
"I hate it for him because the great majority of his passes that were incomplete were batted at the line of scrimmage," Richt said. "When he got in there, he didn't get much help from the line at all. When Mettenberger gets time and space, he can really throw it beautifully, but he's just not getting that luxury right now."
While Murray and Mettenberger are both battling to move up the depth chart by the time fall practice ends, Richt said he still wouldn't write off the option of playing one of them this season even if they don't beat out Gray for the No. 2 job.
"If we felt one of those two guys was our No. 2 then we'd absolutely play them," Richt said. "One of them is going to be No. 3 if they're not No. 2, and we still may choose to play them, but I'd be hesitant to do that."
Starting quarterback Joe Cox completed nine of his 13 attempts for 158 yards and two touchdowns in Wednesday's scrimmage.
BRINGING THE PRESSURE
Rod Battle missed four games last season and all of spring practice due to a litany of injuries, but Richt said his senior defensive end is making up for lost time.
Battle was a force during Wednesday's scrimmage, racking up three-and-a-half sacks. The senior's return to health – and to the starting lineup – will be a key for the defense this season, Richt said.
"He missed four of five games, some at the beginning, some in the middle, some at the end, and he never really got on track (last season)," Richt said. "He's excited he's healthy, and he's practicing well. It's good that we've got a bunch of healthy D ends right now, period. We will be better."
Fellow defensive end Demarcus Dobbs had half-a-sack during Wednesday's scrimmage.
NEW LOOK AT LINEBACKER
A number of Georgia's usual starters at linebacker sat out of Wednesday's scrimmage nursing injuries, but Richt said none were serious. Rennie Curran, Darius Dewberry, Akeem Dent and Darryl Gamble all missed the practice with soreness in their hamstrings.
The absences were likely as much about getting a closer look at the youngsters as it was about giving the time off to the veterans.
"I think that's partially to get those guys a lot of work and then we had some veterans that are a little banged up, and we wanted to just keep them from getting hurt unnecessarily," Richt said. "I think Coach (John) Jancek wanted to see his young pups play. He knows Rennie can play, he knows Dent can play, he knows Gamble can play."
In place of the veterans, Nick Williams, Marcus Dowtin and freshman Mike Gilliard ran with the No. 1 unit for most of the scrimmage. Dowtin tallied seven tackles and a half-a-sack at middle linebacker, while Gilliard had five tackles and a half-a-sack, as well, while playing the Sam position.
"(Gilliard) seems to be picking things up well," Richt said. "He lined up properly, and certainly he will hit you. I think he's gaining the respect of his teammates."
MORE BUMPS AND BRUISES
Receivers Marlon Brown and Tavarres King skipped Wednesday's scrimmage as well. Brown is recovering from a jammed finger, and Richt said King's back has been sore after taking a particularly rough hit during practice earlier this week.
While Caleb King and Washaun Ealey both played in the scrimmage, Richt said neither was at full strength. Ealey has practiced with a sore elbow after hyperextending it last week, and King had a sore hamstring, Richt said.
Tight end Aron White also missed the scrimmage with a sore hamstring, Richt said.
The number of scratches from the starting lineup was extensive, but two returning veterans looked good in their first live action of the fall.
"Jeff Owens got to play today and came out of it outstanding, and Trinton Sturdivant played and came out of it just fine," Richt said. "So they were happy, I'm sure, to get that full scrimmage out of the way."
-- While Richt and running backs coach Bryan McClendon have insisted that blocking will be as important in deciding on a starting tailback as their rushing totals, Richt said his runners didn't have too many chances to show their stuff Wednesday.
"The defense didn't bring a lot of pressure," Richt said. "You usually have to bring a linebacker or a safety in order for the backs to get involved in the blocking schemes. ... The true test comes when they're bringing pressure where you have to recognize it, get in position to do it, then follow through on your block. We didn't (bring) much pressure at all."
-- Richt said the No. 1 units performed admirably, as expected, but he was disappointed with the performances of some of Georgia's backups.
"Our No. 1 offense did really well and our No. 1 defense did really well, but there's too much disparity between our ones and twos right now," he said. "There should be better competition when our twos go against our ones on both sides of the ball."
-- Georgia's coaches have worked tirelessly to eliminate penalties this season, and the defense seems to be on board. The offense, however, has been a slightly different story.
"It's not horrific, but we're still jumping offsides a bit too often on offense," Richt said. "The defense might have had one. The defensive line has been better this camp than the offense as far as just aligning properly and just not jumping off. The neutral zone penalties (for the offense) are a little bit of a bother right now."
-- Orson Charles had two touchdown receptions in the scrimmage and Richt said he has been impressed by what the freshman tight end has done in practice thus far. Arthur Lynch added a third touchdown reception during Wednesday's action, too, and Richt is hopeful the position could be a key weapon in the red zone this season. "We do have some good-looking receiving tight ends right now," he said.
-- Richt said Marcus Washington worked almost entirely at defensive end during the scrimmage. Sounds like that's close to being a full-time gig for Washington now.
-- For those of you who asked, no, I didn't get to watch the scrimmage. The stats were provided by Richt and were "unofficial."
-- One other note I meant to mention yesterday: Talked to A.J. Green for a story and the subject of Mohamed Massaquoi came up. He said he spoke with Mo earlier this week and that Massaquoi is working as the starting No. 2 receiver with the Browns alongside Braylon Edwards right now.
-- For full scrimmage stats, click HERE (or scroll down an extra half inch).
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
I've devoted a good amount of cyberspace to talking about Georgia's pass rush recently.
Yesterday, I blogged about Demarcus Dobbs' hopes that the defensive ends are finally getting healthy (well, sort of).
I also blogged a few weeks ago about Rod Battle's plans for a big senior season .
In today's Telegraph, I have a story about Georgia's plan to employ a trio of linebackers as stand-up rushers this season, too.
Overall, the news there sounds good. Players are getting healthier. They plan to have big seasons. Happy times have returned to Athens.
Mmmm.... not so fast.
Yes, health alone should improve Georgia's pass rush exponentially. Throughout the 2008 season and then to an even greater degree this spring, the injuries have simply been too much to overcome.
Yes, the healthy return of Jeff Owens gives Georgia a push up the middle that will be one of the strongest in the SEC -- and maybe the country.
And yes, using Darryl Gamble, Darius Dewberry and Marcus Washington as occasional rushers makes a lot of sense.
But the problems with Georgia's pass rush last season -- particularly off the end -- were immense, and outside of Kiante Tripp (who moved from the O line in January) and Montez Robinson (a true freshman), the faces are pretty much the same. In fact, the unit lost its lone consistent contributor in Jarius Wynn, who was selected in April's NFL draft.
Just how bad could things be? Here are some numbers.
Georgia finished 10th in the conference in sacks last season with just 23, but even that number is a bit deceiving since six of them came in the team's final game against an overmatched Michigan State and four more came against a dismal Arizona State offensive line. In Georgia's other 11 games, the Dawgs had a whopping 13 sacks.
The worst numbers came in conference play. Georgia tallied just nine sacks in eight SEC games last season, and only 2.5 of them came from the defensive end position. Of that group, Justin Houston is the only player who recorded a single sack -- and he'll be sitting out the first two games of the season with a suspension.
To clarify, when Georgia takes the field against Oklahoma State's high-octane offense on Sept. 5, they will do so without a single defensive end who recorded even half a sack during SEC play last year.
Houston's loss isn't a big deal in terms of total games, but the timing is particularly problematic. First off, of Georgia's returning players, only Rennie Curran recorded more sacks last season than Houston's 2.5.
Secondly, there will not be another defensive end playing in those first two games who both played that position last season and didn't suffer through a spring injury.
Third, Houston had made a giant leap forward during spring and was widely praised for both his off-field efforts in the weight room and film room and his on-field performance. He was a prime breakout candidate and likely Georgia's best hope for a dominant force at DE, and now he'll miss the first two weeks of the season.
While that might not seem like a big deal, here's what Mark Richt said last year about Dewberry and Fred Muzenmaier missing time early in the season due to suspensions:
"It's not easy to watch your teammates go do their thing, and it's not easy to put all that work in and have to watch, and both those guys have been set back. They're not as ready as they would be Game 3, and they're probably not going to get as many reps as they would have got if they were playing all along. Sometimes it sets a guy back for half a season."
Half a season? Even if that's a liberal assessment, it's not hard to wonder if the suspension will undo a great majority of the development Houston made this spring.
Either way, Georgia will still face Oklahoma State without its best defensive end, and that could mean tough times for the rest of the defense.
"It's going to be rough not having him at defensive end because he offers a lot as far as run support and pass rush, so we're going to have to find some ways to get around that – especially against Oklahoma State because those guys have a real good offense," Washington said.
And that leads to the other big issue that the poor pass rush creates.
As we mentioned, Georgia finished 10th in the SEC in sacks last season. Similarly, the Bulldogs finished toward the bottom of the pack in turnovers, taking away the ball just 16 times all season. The relationship between the two is simple: Disrupt what happens in the backfield, make the quarterback uncomfortable, force him to throw early and the results tend to be good. Give the quarterback extra time or take away one (or more) defenders in order to bring the blitz too often, and you're asking for a big play to happen.
As it turned out, Georgia's defense was burned by veteran QBs like Tim Tebow and John Parker Wilson and struggled against even marginal quarterbacks like Nick Stephens and Randall Cobb.
Now look back to 2007, when Georgia led the conference with 42 sacks. That year the team -- which featured essentially the exact same secondary, only with a year less experience -- created 26 turnovers.
That's essentially the equivalent to having one extra possession per game, usually with prime field position. How much of a difference do you think that might have made against Alabama or Georgia Tech last year?
Sure, a truly great secondary can help ease the burden of a lackluster pass rush, and the Bulldogs certainly have the potential for a solid group of DBs this year. But gone are Asher Allen and CJ Byrd, two experienced veterans, and in their place reside unproven sophomore Brandon Boykin and Bryan Evans, who has been playing safety for just nine months (and who was burned by Stephens multiple times while playing corner a year ago).
Even in the run game, the poor pass rush creates problems. As the ends continued to struggle to get to the quarterback last year, their impatience became evident. Opposing linemen took advantage, and the ends fell victim to cut blocks repeatedly, opening up gaping holes for tailbacks who spent far too much time in the Georgia secondary in the latter half of last season.(Yes, Reshad Jones could have done a better job of wrapping up, but he's taken a lot of heat for those big plays that probably could have been stopped long before Jones reached the ball carrier.)
Of course, this is the time of year for optimism. Offensive linemen are never quite as strong in July, and quarterbacks are never quite so adept at avoiding pressure. The future always looks bright, and Georgia's D ends are certainly talking the talk.
"Our unit has taken more leadership this offseason, and we've gotten more of the killer instinct mentality," Dobbs said. "We have everyone stepping up to the plate now and not just following an example. This year we plan on turning things around."
It's a nice sentiment, but the numbers say it will take a lot more than the desire to be better if Georgia is to turn things around this season. Maybe Gamble, Washington and company prove to be the secret weapon the Bulldogs have been looking for. Maybe Houston returns from his suspension even hungrier than before. Maybe Rod Battle and Demarcus Dobbs return to full health and take their games to the next level. Maybe Cornelius Washington or Montez Robinson become superstars in their first year of action. Maybe.
But that's an awful lot of question marks at this time of year at an integral position, and for all the concerns about Joe Cox's quarterbacking or who will carry the load at tailback, it seems to me that the pass rush will likely be the biggest factor in whether Georgia can complete another 10-win campaign or watches Tebow, Urban Meyer and the Gators enjoy another easy road to the Georgia Dome.
Monday, July 20, 2009
It has been a long time since Georgia had its full compliment of defensive ends completely healthy and ready to play. That probably won't be the case when fall practice starts in two weeks, but Demarcus Dobbs is happy the Bulldogs are getting closer to full strength.
"We've suffered a lot of injuries here at D end and a lot of people are just getting back," Dobbs said. "I'm not back to 100 percent yet, but I'm feeling good."
Dobbs broke his foot just days before Georgia's spring game, and the injury required surgery to insert a titanium pin. Like many of Georgia's injuries to its D linemen, Dobbs' foot problems seemed to come as a surprise, but as it turned out, he had been playing with a stress fracture for a while.
"I didn't know it was a stress fracture, I just thought my foot was sore," said Dobbs, who was one of four scholarship D ends to miss time this spring. "Because of the thin numbers we had, I was just taking too many reps, and so I thought my foot was sore and over time it would get better but it was actually a fracture."
The good news is that Dobbs will be ready when practice begins Aug. 4, although he said he's still only at about 85 percent.
"I don't have a time table (for a full recovery)," Dobbs said, "but I can do pretty much everything. It's just a matter of how long I can do it. I feel good running and working out and doing drills, so it's all a matter of time.""
Dobbs' return is a necessity, however, for the battered Bulldogs. Jeremy Longo's shoulder surgery has been slow to heal, and Dobbs said Longo may not be available for much of fall practice. Neland Ball isn't sure when he'll be ready to go either, and while Justin Houston is fully healthy, he'll be suspended for the first two games of the season.
That leaves only Kiante Tripp, who switched from offense in January, and Rod Battle and Cornelius Washington, both of whom are recovering from injuries of their own, to team with Dobbs and true freshman Montez Robinson at defensive end -- a position that was already deemed a problem by many observers after the unit struggled to get pressure on the quarterback last season.
"If I was looking from the outside in, I would say (there's questions) and we realize that as a group," Battle said. "We're just trying to refocus as a group this offseason and try to make up some lost practices that we've all had. Hopefully we can get some momentum going at the position going into the season and hopefully be a bright spot."
Ideally there won't be any lingering effects of the numerous spring injuries, but the bigger concern is that there aren't many more lost practices at the position.
The way Dobbs figures it, things should be getting back to normal by the end of the first week of fall practice, and that will be a welcome sight for a group that has spent far more time bonding in the training room than they have on the practice field.
"Hopefully by camp I hope to see everybody out there full speed doing what they do," Dobbs said. "I'm hoping by the third day of camp everybody (except Longo) will be back."
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Despite the departures of offensive stars Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and Mohamed Massaquoi, the consensus among most fans seems to be that the key to the 2009 season will be the defense.
Hard to argue with that notion after Georgia's D was a disaster throughout much of last season, allowing 38 points or more six times.
Much to the chagrin of a vocal portion of the fan base, no major changes were made among the defensive coaches and three veteran starters -- Dannell Ellerbe, CJ Byrd and Asher Allen -- are all gone. So how does the defense expect to be a lot better in 2009?
Here are some thoughts from some of Georgia's defensive players...
Marcus Washington on the lessons of 2008...
"Last year was kind of a letdown, and I felt as if we let Georgia down because we did not perform the way a Georgia defense traditionally plays. You go back and you look at the defensive aspect of the games, and maybe if we did things a little differently, things would have turned out different. We've got to go in and refocus. We've got to make some stops. We've got to not give up big plays."
Reshad Jones on the most important change the D can make...
"I would say just turnovers period. As far as fumbles, knocking the ball out, interceptions, the overall turnovers. Turnovers help win ball games, give the offense better field position, stuff like that. I think we just need to focus on getting more turnovers."
Rennie Curran on the importance of attitude...
"We started off well last season but we lost our focus. Guys got hurt, but things like that happen. Now this season that we have everybody back, we need to just focus on the basics – running to the ball, executing on every play, not having mental breakdowns or physical breakdowns. We just have to focus on being as disciplined as possible."
Rod Battle on getting back to basics...
"It's just a renewed focus. The same stuff worked in years past, and we know what we want our style of play to be. We want to be a team that plays fast and physical, and I think if you do that, you make up for a lot of mistakes you make."
Akeem Dent on focusing on the little things...
"We're basically doing running, lifting, things like that, but when we do set out to do the drills, we go through with the blocking dummies and work on the fundamentals and the techniques, letting everyone have a chance to complete every drill. That's one thing we want to focus on this year is being able to wrap up and tackle to the ground."
Darryl Gamble on finishing plays...
"We had chances to make plays last year but they just weren't made. So it's really about taking advantage of opportunities, and I don't think we did good with that last year. We would be in the right places, but we've got to execute on what's there."
Battle on the defensive ends this season...
"If I was looking from the outside in, I would say (there's questions) and we realize that as a group. We're just trying to refocus as a group this offseason and try to make up some lost practices that we've all had. Hopefully we can get some momentum going at the position going into the season and hopefully be a bright spot."
Curran on what the young players can add this year...
"It's going to be great to see what those young guys have to offer. They're all bright-eyed and hungry to get on the field and they all love Georgia and are committed players. That's what we need more than anything is guys just ready to buy in and do things right. That's what I think we have in these young guys and I'm excited to see what they can do."
Brandon Boykin on what he expects from the D this year...
"I expect that Junkyard Dawg mentality that Georgia used to have back in the day. You can just tell the intensity in our workouts. We're not taking anything for granted this year. You can see the games where we gave up big plays against Florida and Georgia Tech, we're just trying to focus on not giving up those plays this year. We're doing everything this summer so when we come in the fall we don't run into a wall. I feel like as long as we stay hungry for the ball, we'll be fine in the fall."
So, how about you... what concerns you the most about the defense this season? What new additions do you think can have the biggest impact? What are your expectations when the D opens the season against high-powered Oklahoma State?
Monday, June 29, 2009
When he was on the field last year, Rod Battle usually made an impact. The problem was, he couldn't stay on the field.
A neck injury sidelined him for three games and then lingered even after he returned to action. That was followed by a shoulder injury that required surgery in January. He missed all of spring practice. To call last season frustrating for Battle would be an understatement.
"That was the first time I had really gone through something like that," Battle said. "But you live and you learn that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and you can never be too in condition and you can always work a little bit harder."
With virtually everyone on the depth chart at defensive end recovering from injury and Justin Houston suspended for the first two games of the season, the Bulldogs' desperately need Battle to stay healthy this season. So far, so good.
"I'm feeling pretty good, doing pretty much everything," Battle said.
But whether he can stay that way remains to be seen, which makes simply being on the field priority No. 1 for the senior. Beyond that, he has a few other goals, but he's keeping those to himself.
"I have some goals that are kind of personal, but there's definitely some things I want to accomplish," he said.
While he's not talking specifics, it's safe to say the goals have been set pretty high. It's Battle's last season in Athens, and he wants it to be a memorable one.
"It's my senior year, my last time around, and I want to make it special," Battle said. "When we have reunions, I want to come back around and say this team accomplished something big."
Monday, June 22, 2009
No one wants to say it was more important than any other game. In fact, as far as the standings were concerned, it was less significant. But darned if Georgia's players aren't reminded about that loss to Georgia Tech nearly every day.
"I have a lot of friends who go to Tech, and I'v heard it, but I don't really pay attention to it," offensive lineman Vince Vance said.
"It was very hard at the time and it's still tough to get over now," said defensive end Rod Battle. "I've got an uncle that likes Georgia Tech, and I'd like to shut him up a little bit."
The 45-42 loss to the Yellow Jackets was a first for Bulldogs' head coach Mark Richt, and the defeat stung for a myriad of reasons.
The defense was abysmal in a disastrous third quarter. Big plays abounded for the Yellow Jackets. The Bulldogs blew a big lead on their home field. Tech celebrated by tearing limbs from the famed hedges surrounding Sanford Stadium's field. It was an embarrassment, and one that the players are reminded of often.
And yet, the coaches of both teams aren't fueling the fire.
Before the season, Tech coach Paul Johnson listed beating his in-state rival as a top priority. Now he's backed away from that claim.
"Our players circled that game," he said.
At Bulldog Club meetings, Tech has been as big a topic of consternation as the annually reviled Florida Gators, but Mark Richt isn't acting as if it's any different.
"Our fans have never gotten to the point in my opinion where that games wasn't real meaningful," he said.
Even the future of the rivalry has been downplayed a bit. Richt said things have always been intense between the two schools, no more so now. He even pointed out that, due to their divergent styles of offense, last year's loss won't have much impact on recruiting since the two schools rarely go head-to-head for the same recruits.
Johnson gives the win a bit more significance, but he said it meant more to the fans that it did the team.
"It's the in-state rival, the two biggest schools in the state. It's an important game, and we approach it that way," Johnson said. "It was more important to the fans and the alumni than anything else. We hope we're going to be here for a while, and hopefully that won't be the last time."
But for all the sugar coating, the bottom line remains the same: This offseason has come with a heaping helping of gloating by those in-state rivals, and that's a dose of reality the Bulldogs haven't felt in a long time. So while they may want to downplay the desire for revenge, they're not ignoring it.
"I wouldn't even say it's in the back of my mind," Vance said. "It's there. We ain't forgot."
Friday, June 12, 2009
Before the Pigskin Preview event in Macon on Tuesday, I asked via Twitter for a few questions you guys wanted me to ask Mark Richt. A handful of folks had suggestions, and I got a few answers. Here goes...
@Ludakit asks: due to de depth, any special packages being made like a 3-4 just in case? Maybe something similar to lsu's express?
Don't expect any vast departures on defense. As Rod Battle said, "It's just a renewed focus. The same stuff worked in years past, and we know what we want our style of play to be. We want to be a team that plays fast and physical, and I think if you do that, you make up for a lot of mistakes you make."
Of course that doesn't mean there won't be any changes. Richt said he expects the try-outs for Darryl Gamble and Marcus Washington at defensive end this spring to be a permanent feature in the fall.
"We felt like with Brandon Miller we probably didn't take advantage enough of his abilities," Richt said. "He played Sam linebacker and when the Sam left the game he was standing on the sideline. He wasn't really producing for us. It was late in his career that we really found out that we should let this kid rush the passer in nickel situations. So we're basically making that our normal mode of operation now. If you're a Sam linebacker and it's nickel time, you're going to learn how to rush the passer."
@strickland asks: which player are you most excited to see play this fall?
Richt was short on specifics here, but he did have some big picture interests: "There's so many. I'm curious about the tailback position. I'm very curious to see how the young receivers do because they're going to have to play. I'm excited to just watch the offensive line practice on a daily basis because not only will the first team be pretty good, but the second team is going to be pretty darned good. And when that happens, that helps the defense. The healthier you are, the more experienced you are, everybody just gets better on a daily basis, and just to watch that will be good."
@TNRLM asks: any chance of the special teams brain trust rethinking "directional kicking" and coverage?
This one didn't take long for Richt to answer: "I doubt there will be change."
I suggested he check out Rex Robinson's thoughts on the situation, which he did promise he would do.
"Maybe I ought to read it and maybe it will change my opinion," Richt said. "I'll read it."
@RandallDBruce asks: What is his response to people now calling him a whiner with his recent remarks?
Well, I posted much more about this yesterday, so be sure to check that out HERE.
Beyond that though, Richt said he doesn't think criticisms of him or his team are unfair. But he did admit that the landscape has changed in terms of how fans view him and the program, particularly in light of last season.
"I think they have a pretty realistic idea of what this league's about," Richt said, "but last year in particular, all that preseason No. 1 got everybody thinking this is it, and when you have a Stafford and Moreno, people have a tendency to want to judge the entire team on two guys. To me, when you're starting three freshmen and two sophomores up front, if you look at that, not many people would rank someone a preseason No. 1. But because of how we finished the season prior and because we had these highly regarded players, they thought, this is the year."
And if you're still looking for some more info from the Pigskin Preview, check out Part 2 of Macon Dawg's report at Dawg Sports.Thanks to those of you who submitted questions, and don't forget to follow me on Twitter if you're not already.