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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Practice Notes: Dawgs Getting Impatient

It has been three weeks since Georgia started fall camp, and the grueling pace of practice is starting to wear on the players.

It's not that the Bulldogs are easing up, it's just that they're getting tired of tackling each other.

"I think we're just ready to play somebody else," quarterback Joe Cox said. "You come out of camp and it's kind of a relief, but you're really still in it, you just have school to go along with it."

A year ago, Georgia was already into the game-planning phase for its opener, but this August, the team has an additional week to prepare for its first game of the season against Oklahoma State.

On the positive side, it's an extra week to get ready for what promises to be one of Georgia's toughest opening-week opponents in years. The downside, however, is that all the reps in practice are starting to get a little dull.

"We're ready to hit that phase where we're game planning and worrying about other teams and going other places rather than just coming out and doing the same things every day," Cox said.

After three weeks of the most grueling preseason senior Jeff Owens can remember, however, the extra week of practice time isn't so much about preparation as it is about rejuvenation.

"This extra week will help guys get their legs back up under them," Owens said. "I think we can just go out and work on our fundamentals and get better, make sure everyone knows the scheme of the defense."


Richt offered a ringing endorsement to sophomore Richard Samuel on Friday, saying the tailback was firmly atop Georgia's depth chart. But while Samuel hopes to approach the 1,400 rushing yards compiled by Knowshon Moreno a year ago, the plan for replacing the 33 receptions and nearly 400 receiving yards Moreno added is still likely to be a committee approach.

"I think we're kind of going to pull from everybody to get certain aspects of what Knowshon did," Cox said. "Richard's a hard runner, kind of a bruiser and he gets open, but it's not like he has incredible ball skills."

Samuel caught just two passes for 11 yards as a freshman, numbers likely to increase with additional playing time this season. Still, fellow tailbacks Caleb King and Carlton Thomas are better known for their abilities as receivers and are likely to see plenty of action in that role.

"A guy like Caleb or Carlton, they have really smooth hands," Cox said. "I'm not saying we're not going to throw the ball to Richard, but I definitely think we'll be using them rather than expecting Richard to run every down and catch every ball we throw to the backs."


Senior defensive end Marcus Washington returned to the practice field Saturday after missing two days due to illness. Sophomore linebacker Marcus Dowtin worked out with the team, too, but in a green, non-contact jersey. Dowtin had missed nearly a week with strep throat.

"He's been in the bed," Richt said of Dowtin. "He hasn't even been going to class. But he's coming out of it now and he's made enough progress for us to believe he'll be back Monday."

The two illnesses were enough to warrant quick medical attention for both players, but it's a scenario Richt said his training staff has been preparing for since the spring.

With the outbreak of the H1N1 virus – better known as the swine flu – Richt said trainer Ron Courson and his staff have been quick to diagnose flu symptoms and isolate players who may be ill.

"We had a few guys over the summer that we moved them out of their dorms or we moved a roommate out of the dorm when we thought a guy might have some flu symptoms," Richt said. "Even Dowtin, we kept him away from everybody even though we knew it was more of a strep throat thing. Ron always does a great job, but on this we were pretty proactive."


Last season, Georgia entered the year with its best-ever preseason ranking, players on the cover of Sports Illustrated and a ton of hype surrounding the team. The result was a disappointing 10-3 campaign in which the Bulldogs never came close to meeting lofty expectations.

This year, the shoe is on the other foot as Oklahoma State features the Sports Illustrated cover boys and national attention. While Cox isn't ready to call that an advantage for his side, he said he's well aware of the perils of too much publicity before a team even hits the field.

"I don't know how much of an advantage it will be," Cox said. "They might feed off of it. I just know it wasn't the best thing for us, or at least it didn't turn out to be last year. I like the way we're ranked. I like being in an underdog situation. I think it made us work harder this offseason, and we'll see how it affected them when we play them."

(NOTE: Cox may not know if it's an advantage, but I highly recommend reading this story from The Oklahoman and forming your own opinion.)


Georgia began scout team work for Oklahoma State on Friday -- doing about 20 minutes of preparations, head coach Mark Richt said. The scout team work will increase gradually this week, culminating with Georgia's final preseason scrimmage Wednesday in which the No. 1 units will play a simulated game against the scout team's version of Oklahoma State.

"We're in good shape," Richt said. "We're ready to move into our scout team units. By Wednesday we want them to have enough work so that when we have that game, they've give us a pretty good look."

After Wednesday's practice game, the Bulldogs will take Thursday off, then return to full practices Friday and Saturday. Next Sunday is a regularly scheduled off day and Georgia then begins its normal preparations the following Monday with a practice in full pads.

"It'll be good to be moving toward the game plan, but I think it will also be good to get their bodies refreshed," Richt said.


As to what Georgia might expect from Oklahoma State, Richt has some good news and some bad news.

When it comes to the defensive side of the football, Richt said the Cowboys offer some familiar looks.

"Defensively, as far as schematically, they're a lot like Arizona State," Richt said. "Their base is a 4-3 and they play quarters coverage. Their fire zones are similar to most everybody else. We're very close to them schematically in the secondary."

The problem, however, is on offense. Oklahoma State features three talented playmakers in quarterback Zac Robinson, wideout Dez Bryant and tailback Kendall Hunter and usually employ spread formations. The problem is, the Cowboys' spread isn't much like the others Georgia has played in the past.

"Offensively, I can't really say there's anybody that would closely relate to them," Richt said.


Finding a suitable replacement for departed wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi wasn't a difficult chore Cox said. Senior Michael Moore is expected to earn the bulk of the throws that went to Massaquoi a year ago, and that's a role Cox said Moore was ready for even before this season.

"He's a guy who works hard every day, knows what to do, and he's dependable," Cox said. "Any time you have a guy like that you want to get him the ball because you know he's going to be in the right place at the right time."


The attention has focused on the new faces fighting for the starting tailback job this offseason, but head coach Mark Richt said the new man coaching the tailbacks has done a pretty impressive job so far, too.

Bryan McClendon has only been on the job for about eight months, but Richt said the players have enjoyed his coaching style and the rest of the staff has been a strong support system.

"He's got great support with (last year's running backs coach) Tony (Ball) being right there, and of course, Mike (Bobo) and really Coach (Stacy) Searels," Richt said. "So he's surrounded by a really good support and everybody believes in him. And the players, they believe in him and are responding real well."


-- Demarcus Dobbs and Nick Williams had both been in green jerseys following minor neck sprains last week, but both were back on the field and full participants in Saturday's practice.

-- Caleb King is looking better, but he may not practice fully for a few more days. "I will say he'll start doing some drill work, doing some ball handling, maybe doing some pass skeleton, but I don't know," Richt said. "He's getting close though."

-- A handful of players with hamstring injuries could be back as full participants in Georgia's next practice Monday. "By Monday, hopefully a lot of these guys that haven't been working will work," Richt said. "I think Reshad (Jones) is real close, Aron White's real close. (Bryan) Evans, I'm not sure if he'll go full speed Monday, but they're all getting work."

-- Add Darius Dewberry to the "getting close" list, with a little extra praise coming his way. "Dewberry's very close. I would say this week coming up and maybe Monday," Richt said. "He really had a great summer. He's in tremendous shape, he's strong, and he knows what he's doing and has become very good at it."

-- One player lagging in his recovery is linebacker Akeem Dent, whose timetable for a return remains unclear. "Dent is actually a little further behind some of these other guys," Richt said. "He's not responding as quickly. I'm hoping by the end of the week Dent will be able to go but I'm more optimistic about the other hamstrings."


-- Just in case you haven't cruised over to yet, be sure to check out my story on tailback Carlton Thomas, who has kept his name in the conversation for significant playing time this offseason despite the constant concerns about his size.

-- Matthew Stafford is getting the start for the Detroit Lions tonight, in case you were wondering.

-- Got an email from Sean F. asking: "Do you know when Jeff will begin his blog again? And has it not been updated lately due to NCAA rules or just the time constraints of football?"

There are no problems with NCAA or team rules. Quite the opposite, actually. Jeff's biggest issue, he said, has been finding good topics to write about, but the school is actually planning to give him a hand with that, and he'll be back to blogging soon.

"I've got a lot of stuff coming up," Owens said. "I'm supposed to get hooked up with sports communication to put it on and they're going to have different people talking about what they want to hear, what they want to read and stuff, so that'll give me help."


Anonymous said...

David: How is Josh Murray doing in his return to football? Does he have a realistic chance to see the field at some point (this year or down the line)? You may have asked Coach Richt about it, but I must have zoomed past it in the story.

David Hale said...

There'll be more Josh Murray content up on the blog in the morning.

Josh has battled some injuries this preseason, but he's hopeful to be playing some special teams. The fact that he was part of Georgia's 105 during camp tells me that he has a real shot at doing that and maybe more down the line.