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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Injuries a Mixed Blessing for Dawgs

If there's one question I've heard more than any other this preseason, it's fans concerned that -- with all the hamstring injuries -- tackling is going to be as much a problem as it was a year ago.

When it comes to challenging practices, this fall has been as tough as any, as I detailed in my story for the Telegraph yesterday. And as much as the pace and the tempo of practice have been improved, the biggest change might be the focus on tackling.

"There's a lot more hitting, a lot more tackling," wide receiver Michael Moore said earlier this week. "As receivers, we have these drills where we go one-on-one with the DBs that are tackle drills, tackle to the ground. We never really did that before. Even today, we had a couple periods where we were going full speed, tackle to the ground. Last year, we really tried to stay up most of the time, just try to do full-speed thud. That didn't help us, so (Mark Richt) definitely changed that up."

But the problem, wonder more than a few fans with visions of Roddy Jones streaking downfield still haunting their dreams, is that if so many players aren't on the field for practice, will things really be any different?

It's a valid concern admits linebacker Akeem Dent, who has missed almost two weeks with a sore hamstring.

"Of course it hurts to a certain extent because being out there and getting the reps physically and just seeing the reps is different," Dent said. "You want to be out there to get your timing and everything right and things like that. From a mental standpoint, I know what to do. But I still have to get out there and continue to stay in shape."

That's not exactly encouraging for a team that was so poor fundamentally last season, particularly with an offense as dynamic as Oklahoma State's awaiting the Bulldogs in Week 1.

But timing is everything, said safety Bryan Evans, and with nearly all of the injured defenders returning to work this week, he thinks there's plenty of time to get ready for the challenge ahead.

"It can affect you if you're not going out there right now trying to get it done," Evans said. "But we've still got a week-and-a-half, close to two weeks, so I think all of that will be polished by the time the game comes."

In fact, what could have been a disaster may have actually been an opportunity, Richt said.

With seven practice sessions left, he thinks his veterans will know the ins and outs of Oklahoma State's offense. But it's those practice sessions they missed that may have provided Georgia with a chance to develop a lot more depth.

"I'd be more concerned if all of our young guys had hamstring and all I had was veterans working," Richt said. "If the rookies weren't getting any reps at all, I'd be very concerned. But I do think it could end up being a blessing. Those young safeties got a ton of work, and a ton of work with the No. 1 defense. Even some of our young linebackers got work that they might not have gotten if it weren't for the veterans having to sit."

As for those veterans? Well, perhaps the memories of last season have begun to fade a bit and the confidence in his defense has been restored. Regardless, Richt is pretty sure Evans, Dent, Reshad Jones, Darius Dewberry and the rest of the Bulldogs' D won't miss a beat when it comes time to stop the Cowboys on Sept. 5.

"The veterans having a working knowledge of the defense, I don't think it will hurt them too badly," he said. "Schematically, we're just now getting into the guts of the game plan, and most everybody's starting to move around a little bit. So I think there's plenty of time to be ready."

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