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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Signing Day Notes Part I

I'll have more notes coming either later tonight or early tomorrow. For now, I've got one more story to write and a basketball game to cover. The Pete Herrmann era tips off at Stegeman for the first time tonight. Can you feel the excitement? No? Well, at least you have Marlon Brown.

-- Mark Richt didn't take the time to check with his assistants before answering a question about Branden Smith's potential as an offensive player. In Richt's mind, Smith was clearly a candidate to play on both sides of the ball.

Smith, a five-star recruit out of Atlanta, was a standout player at cornerback, receiver and returner in high school, and while defensive coordinator Willie Martinez expects him to provide an immediate impact in Georgia's secondary, he can't disagree with Richt's projection.

"There's no doubt that we have plans to start him on corner, he's going to be a returner and also give him a little package to play some receiver or running back," Martinez said. "That's one of the reasons why we wanted him. I'm for winning games and if we've got to play kids like Branden both ways, we're going to do it."

The process will start with Smith on defense, however, and Martinez said there's an opportunity for the freshman to start immediately.

With junior cornerback Asher Allen leaving a year early to enter the NFL draft, there is little experience at the position outside of senior Prince Miller, and Martinez said Smith will be in the mix for a starting job along with Sanders Commings, Vance Cuff and Brandon Boykin.

"He's going to have every opportunity to compete for a job, for playing time," Martinez said. "The way our system is set up and the way we play and the guys we recruit have a chance to play right away. We're not into the whole redshirting thing. Our kids have a chance to graduate in three-and-a-half years now the way our system works, so it's four years, and we take advantage of the type of kids we recruit."

-- The oldest tailback in Georgia's backfield is a third-year sophomore, so running backs coach Bryan McClendon knows he won't have the luxury of experienced depth. So when Washaun Ealey arrives to start his Georgia career in August, McClendon said he will have just as good a shot at landing the starting tailback job as anyone.

"He's going to have every opportunity just like the rest of those guys to come in and show what he can do," McClendon said. "It's going to be on Washaun to see what he can and can't handle, and that will determine how early he plays."

The potential is certainly there for Ealey. McClendon said the Emmanuel County Institute product has good speed, can run between the tackles and doesn't shy away from contact with defenders.

Despite the fact that Ealey has yet to take a college snap, the attribute that impressed McClendon the most, however, was his experience.

"The biggest thing that stood out to me was that he's played in a lot of big ballgames," McClendon said. "In the SEC we play a lot of big games, and a lot of those moments that are going to tell the difference in a game, and you want a guy that wants the ball, and he's one of those guys."

-- Kiante Tripp arrived at Georgia a defensive lineman. When the 2009 season kicks off, he figures to be there once again.

Head coach Mark Richt announced that Tripp, who played right tackle, left tackle and tight end in 2008, will move to defensive end this season after a stint on offense that lasted less than two years.

"He came to me with that request," Richt said. "He looked at our depth chart and saw the issues there with some of the guys that weren't going to be there in the spring and also kind of had a desire to get back in that role."

Tripp was penciled in as the starting right tackle in fall camp last season, but moved to left tackle after Trinton Sturdivant was lost with a season-ending knee injury. He was benched three games into the year, however, and was alter moved to tight end due to a rash of injuries at that position. He eventually moved back to the line but saw little playing time the rest of the way.

"Kiante stepped up when we had a need, and he's doing that again," offensive line coach Stacy Searels said. "We have some defensive ends injured, it's a spot where we need help, and he's stepping up and being a team player."

-- When offensive lineman Chris Burnette learned he was in the running to become Troup County's valedictorian, Richt promised he would be there for the graduation ceremony if it happened.

Once Burnette arrives at Georgia in the fall, however, Searels said he plans to put his freshman's intelligence to work.

"Georgia's not an easy school to get into, and those kids really have to perform at a high level to have success here," Searels said. "To have Burnette being that smart a kid, that's going to help me a lot as a coach. As an offensive lineman, you've got a lot of things going on. There's a lot of audibles, stuff like that, and you're getting hit in the head every play. So you've got to be a smart kid."

-- Marlon Brown stole the headlines with his late decision to sign with Georgia, but wide receiver Rantavious Wooten has plenty of moves, too, Richt said.

The biggest knock on the 5-foot-10, 158-pound Wooten is his size, but Richt said he has already shown the ability to make the same plays a bigger receiver would.

"If you get the ball to him with a little bit of space whether it's reverse, quick screens, and he still can penetrate the deep field he's a pretty complete receiver, and he does have quicks and can make people miss," Richt said.

-- Anything is possible until the new class of recruits are actually enrolled, but Richt said he expects all 18 players currently signed with the program to find a home at Georgia without any major problems qualifying.

"When we sign these young men, we have every intention of them making it," Richt said. "Every once in a while a guy has to go the prep school route ... but I don't foresee that right now. Right now we feel that everybody has a very outstanding shot at qualifying and being with us."

-- One more offensive weapon could follow Brown's lead as a late addition to the Bulldogs' attack. Orson Charles isn't likely decide where he'll play college ball for another few weeks, but Georgia remains a distinct possibility.

Charles or any other player yet to make a decision is not allowed off-campus contact with Georgia coaches, but can still make on-campus visits, recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner said.

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