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Monday, August 24, 2009

Practice Notes: Freshmen Receivers Catching On

Marlon Brown has already been asking around to find out what to expect when he takes the field in Stillwater, Okla. for the first game of his college career.

The wait for game day seemed endless for the first three months he was on campus, but now that it's less than two week away, he's starting to feel the pressure a bit.

"It's actually real, real soon," Brown said. "I've asked Mike (Moore) and Kris Durham and A.J. (Green), and they said it's hectic."

Brown's debut may be coming faster than he expected, but head coach Mark Richt said his freshmen receivers – Brown and Rantavious Wooten – need to be ready for action.

"Both of them started out pretty good, then I think both of them hit a little bit of a wall, and now I think both of them are beginning to pick it up again and make progress," Richt said. "But they're getting a ton of opportunities in practice, and they'll both get playing time."

Moore said he's seen his fair share of mistakes from the two freshmen, but their attitude has remained positive and the progress has been steady. Moore said Brown and Wooten have demonstrated a strong knowledge of the playbook, and now they're simply working on executing at full speed.

That's crucial for the Bulldogs, who have just four other scholarship receivers.

"I think they're far along enough where they can help the team now," Moore said. "I think the coaches are comfortable with them, and as a player, I feel comfortable with them now, too."


Georgia will have a first-year starter at punter and could have another handling kickoffs, and both will be tested early.

Oklahoma State's special teams are among the best in the country, with punt returner Dez Bryant, who had two returns for touchdowns last season, and kick returner Perrish Cox, who is on pace to break the Big 12 record for return yards early this season.

"They're outstanding there, and our kicking game has just got to be outstanding," Richt said. "It starts with the kicker and punter, but our coverage teams, when you talk about wanting to be in midseason form Game 1, we better be."

As to which player will be handling kickoffs -- either Brandon Bogotay or Blair Walsh -- remains a mystery – and it's not one for which Richt is planning to offer a solution any time soon.

"I doubt that will ever be announced before the first game, so don't ask," Richt said, joking with reporters Monday. "We've narrowed it down to two, so that's pretty good."

While Richt is playing coy on who will handle kickoffs, he said he simply hasn't decided on the approach that kicker will take. Georgia's kicking game struggled badly last year with directional kicking, but Richt said that still could be the plan against Oklahoma State.

"As we get closer to it, we'll have to make some decisions on if we'll kick to them or not," Richt said.

One bright spot, however, appears to be the work of new punter Drew Butler, who Richt said has had a tremendous few weeks in practice.

"I hope he punts in the games like he's been punting in practice," Richt said. "He's been very good. He never had an issue with operation time."


Freshman cornerback Jordan Love missed Monday's practice due to a lingering toe injury he has had since high school. Richt said it's less severe than a turf toe, but Georgia's staff is taking a conservative approach.

"We let him rest a bit, cool off, then hook him up again," Richt said. "It's a day-to-day, pain-tolerance kind of thing."

Safeties Bryan Evans and Reshad Jones and tight end Aron White all returned to a full practice Monday after sitting out the majority of the past two weeks with hamstring injuries. While none participated in a sprinting exercise at the end of practice, Richt was otherwise pleased with their progress.

"They had green jerseys on, but they did just about everything," Richt said.

Two players who did not participate were left tackle Trinton Sturdivant, who Richt said is sick with a gastro-intestinal illness, and Darius Dewberry, who Richt said was close to returning from a hamstring injury.


With so many teams running spread offenses around the SEC, Richt said the nickel back position has become ever more important. The problem is, Georgia has been limited in who it can use at the position recently thanks to fall injuries to safeties Jones, Evans and Quintin Banks.

The primary nickel at this point, Richt said, has been redshirt freshman Makiri Pugh, who has also worked at safety. Redshirt freshman Sanders Commings was getting reps, but Richt said that has tapered off some. Prince Miller, who is Georgia's starting wide corner, could also handle the job if need be, with freshman Branden Smith handling cornerback duties, Richt said.

One more intriguing option at the nickel is linebacker Nick Williams, who moved from safety last season. Williams has already been playing the strongside linebacker spot, which is the position that leaves the field when the nickel enters the game. With Williams' versatility, Richt said, Georgia could essentially run a base package in the nickel, too.

"He in essence knows the nickel also," Richt said. "He runs pretty good for a linebacker, so he might be able to play some downs without having to make that substitution."


While Kiante Tripp hasn't been working with the first-team defensive ends this fall, Richt said he has been impressed with how the converted offensive lineman has handled himself.

"I thought Kiante was playing extremely hard," Richt said. "He's gotten in tremendous condition. He's a very athletic big guy. I would say he's going to play, and the better he plays, the better chance he has of gaining more playing time."

Tripp missed much of last week with a minor shoulder injury but returned to practice Monday.


With Michael Moore working so much in the slot, a few fans wondered if he would see a lot of the field when Georgia was in a two-wideout set. Not to worry, Moore said.

He has spent a significant amount of time working at the Z and X receiver spots, too, and said he'll be starting opposite A.J. Green in all sets.

That means there will be a good bit of pressure on Moore to perform, Richt said, but a strong start to the season for the senior receiver could go a long way toward opening up Georgia's offense.

"A.J.'s going to get the most attention, so the bottom line is he's got to win when he has man coverage, which he'll probably see a good bit of," Richt said of Moore. "If he proves he can defeat it and it becomes an issue for people, they'll have to mix up what they're doing, maybe try to double both, and then we'll have a lot better opportunity to run the football."


Here's what Richt had to say about the current practice schedule: "Today we were in full pads. It was a pretty long practice. We had some live inside drill, live open-field tackling. Tomorrow will be mostly scout work and then we'll kind of prepare everybody for our practice game on Wednesday."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ridiculously good reporting. Keep up the good work.