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Friday, February 6, 2009

Friday Football Notes (2/6)

One last batch of notes for the week...

-- It wasn't the first time Kiante Tripp looked at Georgia's depth chart and decided he could help the team out with a change of positions. In fact, he had already done it twice, first moving to offensive line, then later to tight end. But this time, Tripp noticed that Georgia would have just three healthy defensive ends for spring drills and saw a chance to return to the position he had always wanted to play.

So Monday, Tripp walked into head coach Mark Richt's office and made an offer: If the coaches were interested, he would like to move back to defensive end. Richt's response was a broad smile. The two men walked into the staff meeting room, and Richt told Tripp to take a look at the depth chart. There, on the chalk board under defensive ends, were written two names: Demarcus Dobbs and Kiante Tripp.

"They were already thinking about the same thing I was thinking," Tripp said.

And as far as he's concerned, this should be the last move he has to make. Tripp started the first three games of 2008 at left tackle, was hurt for a while and moved to a back-up role, slid over to tight end midway through the year, then moved back to the offensive line. But now, he's found a home at the same position he was recruited for.

"This definitely where I want to finish at," Tripp said. "In high school, this is what I loved to do, get after the quarterback. Now I'm here, back at my home position, and that's my intent, to do the same thing."

It has been a long road back to where he started, but it was a journey Tripp said he was glad to make.

"It was a learning process for me, humbling," Tripp said. "I was down a little bit, but after that, I was like I'll play the practice player role, the team role, and then start over in the spring. So now I'm here, trying to work hard and do the best I can at D end."

Tripp put on weight for his move to the offensive line last season, and he said he'd like to drop about 10 or 15 pounds to get down to about 280 before the season, although defensive ends coach Jon Fabris said he could be effective at his current weight.

Other than his size, however, Tripp has the added advantage of an insider's knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the players he'll now be going up against.

"It's going to help me a lot when I get my plays in at D end, and I hear the other plays on the other side of the ball, I already know what's going to happen," Tripp said. "As far as working with offensive tackle, I know the technique and I know what's going to give them problems."

With that in mind, tackle Trinton Sturdivant had a warning for his former teammate on the offensive line after Tripp informed the team of the switch.

"You better be ready," Sturdivant told Tripp.

It was a friendly warning for Tripp, but one he returned with an honest response.

"You better get ready, too, because I'm coming," Tripp said. "I'm coming with a chip on my shoulder. It's time for me to get on that field and start showing the world what Kiante Tripp is about."

(Interesting side note to this: When Tripp told the offensive linemen he was switching positions, the first words out of one of their mouths was, "OK, but I'm going to cut you." The lineman who said it? Freshman Ben Jones.)

-- The downside to losing two starting defensive backs is that there won't be much foundation for Georgia's secondary in 2009, but defensive coordinator Willie Martinez is looking at it as a plus.

Martinez has told his players that no spot on the depth chart is safe, and the offseason workouts prior to spring practice are already having an impact. Martinez said he has already adjusted his depth chart based on performance in the weight room although he didn't want to discuss who had swapped spots and he expects more to come as spring drills near.

"There's no doubt there's more competition," Martinez said. "We have one returning corner, and we lost two from our nickel package."

Asher Allen's departure at cornerback leaves Prince Miller as the only experienced player at the position, but Martinez said there is no lack of potential starters, including newcomers Branden Smith and Jordan Love.

"We're going to try Sanders Commings there," Martinez said. "He's a big kid, but he's athletic. Pugh could be there, too. We've got Brandon Smith and Jordan Love coming in, and they'll have a great opportunity of playing."

Martinez confirmed that Reshad Jones could slide across the field to fill CJ Byrd's duties at strong safety, but the battle for the other safety job is up for grabs. One player Martinez has been impressed by so far, however, is Bryan Evans, who moved from cornerback midway through the 2008 season.

"He feels a lot more comfortable," Martinez said. "He's a smart player. He's got a bunch of experience, and we really liked him at the end of the year playing that position."

-- Coming out of high school, Israel Troupe was nearly as well regarded on the baseball diamond as he was on the football field, and he even spent a few weeks practicing with Georgia's baseball team his freshman year.

As the 2009 baseball season approached, he considered taking another run at adding a second sport to his resume, but with a new wide receivers coach taking over and a big opportunity to add to his production in his third season on the football team, Troupe decide to focus all his energies on the gridiron.

"I gave it a lot of thought," Troupe said, "but then Coach (John) Eason retired, and Coach (Tony) Ball became the coach, and I figured I had to kind of reprove myself and show Coach Ball I'm ready to contribute."

Last year, Troupe was used sparingly, catching just four passes for 39 yards, but with three seniors from the 2008 receiving corps leaving, he knows there could be a lot more chances for him to contribute in 2009.

"I look at it as I've got to work harder than the next guy, come out with a different attitude that I've got to work and nothing's going to be given to me," Troupe said.

While conventional wisdom might suggest that without Mohamed Massaquoi, Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno, Georgia will be taking a bit more conservative approach next season, Troupe said the opposite is likely to be true, and he wants to be a big part of it.

"They're talking about opening the offense up a little bit more this year because we've got a lot more weapons this year," he said. "I just want to go out and play, get out on the field and make big things happen."

-- It wasn't exactly how Carlton Thomas hoped to garner his share of the spotlight at running back, but with Richard Samuel and Dontavius Jackson both nursing injuries, the undersized freshman figures to get plenty of carries during spring drills.

"It's going to be kind of rough that the depth is low, but it's an opportunity, and when the opportunity presents itself, you've got to take it no matter how it comes or you're going to get lost in the shuffle."

At just 5-foot-7, size has always been an issue for Thomas, but he said he's far more prepared for the rigors of life in the SEC than his diminutive stature might suggest. HE has added 10 pounds to his frame since arriving at Georgia last summer, and at 180 pounds, he said he's prepared to carry the load this year if called upon.

"I see myself as an every down guy," Thomas said. "A lot of guys just look at the size, but I feel like I can run outside the tackles or between the tackles, so it's basically just giving me the opportunity and I'll prove myself every time."

While his size may be a question mark, his speed certainly isn't.

Thomas ran a 4.44 in the 40-yard dash coming out of high school, and he thinks that could be his biggest asset as he fights for playing time. He said he expects to play a big role on special teams as a returner this season, and hopes that will translate into more carries on offense.

So far this offseason, Thomas said he believes he's made a strong impression with exceptional bowl practices and a quick start to seven-on-seven drills last month.

"I'm really just reacting now instead of thinking about things," Thomas said. "I'm comfortable with the playbook, comfortable with myself, and just comfortable with the ball in my hands."

-- For the past two seasons, Troupe has spent plenty of time getting to know Georgia's new starting quarterback, Joe Cox. Both played on the second-string offense while stars like Stafford and Massaquoi took the first-team snaps, and Troupe said he's well aware of the new and much more vocal attitude Cox will bring to the Bulldogs in 2009.

"Joe's not the guy you want to mess with when he gets mad," Troupe said. "If Joe wants it done one way, he's going to get it his way, no doubt. Joe brings a different attitude to the table. He's not afraid to get up in your face and yell at you to get you to do right. This is his team now, and it's his year to show what he can do, so he's going to be vocal."

-- Georgia's prized defensive recruit, Branden Smith, has plenty of admirers already, but one of his biggest will share time with him in the Bulldogs' secondary. Smith went to the same high school as safety Reshad Jones, and Jones has kept an eye on what the soon-to-be Bulldog has done over the years.

Jones said he knows Smith well and even attended several of his games last season. He said Smith could step in immediately on defense for Georgia, and there's one quality in particular that the incoming freshman should deliver.

"Speed," Jones said. "He's a fast guy, and I know that for sure. He'll bring a lot of speed to our secondary."

-- I talked to Troupe and Shaun Chapas about the changes to the offensive coaching staff, and both seemed legitimately excited about working with their new position coaches. Troupe, however, offered some good detail.

"Coach Ball has brought a whole new attitude to the receiving corps," he said. "He brings so much enthusiasm to the table. He wants us to be the best and most productive group on the field, and if we don't do it, then we get in trouble."

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