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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Practice Notes: No Limitations for Dawgs' Offense

With all the new faces on offense this year, head coach Mark Richt might like to have a little time to break in the rookies and get a feel for how the unit functions before taking off the training wheels.

With high-powered Oklahoma State looming in Georgia’s first game of the season, however, that’s a luxury Richt said Georgia can’t afford.

“We’ve got to turn it loose,” Richt said. “We can’t sit there and think too much. We’ve got to let them all play, put them in a position to make plays, and hopefully they will.”

The combination of Oklahoma State’s quick-strike ability and potentially sizzling temperatures in Stillwater for the game, Richt said he’ll have little choice but to put his young players on the field and give them a chance to make an impact.

That list of new faces includes first-year starting tailback Richard Samuel, two freshmen tight ends in Orson Charles and Arthur Lynch, and freshmen receivers Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten, along with first-year starting quarterback Joe Cox. With so many inexperienced players on the field, there are plenty of questions for Richt and his staff, but he said the Bulldogs aren’t planning to wait long to find out who’s ready for the job.

“If you’re not quite sure of all your personnel, you’re more apt to make sure the right guys are getting the ball, which is not as much fun as a coordinator,” Richt said. “When you’re sitting there going, ‘Well, so-and-so is in the game, so I’ve got to do this or that,’ I hope that we don’t have to do that. We’re not going into this game saying that’s what we’re going to do because we feel like we’ve got to let these guys go out there and make plays.”

If there’s an upside, however, it’s that so much transition can affect both sides of the ball.

While all the changes on offense make game planning for the opener a tricky task for Georgia’s play callers, it also complicates the job for Oklahoma State’s defense, Richt said.

“I’m sure they’re sitting there not sure who’s going to be where or who’s going to make plays or who we’re going to put in position to make plays,” Richt said. “The only thing they probably know for sure is A.J. Green. Other than that, they’re probably guessing a little bit.”


Saturday’s practice marked the official end of the preseason, with the focus Monday shifting entirely to Oklahoma State as Georgia begins its usual practice routine leading up to a game.

While not every question the coaches had entering fall practice has been answered, Richt said there’s no mistaking the improvements he has seen in the preparation his team has gotten this preseason.

“By a long shot, we were able to prepare the way we normally like to in terms of the number of days we scrimmage and tackle to the ground and every single day in inside drill was live tackling,” Richt said.

The biggest different, Richt said, has been a reduced number of injuries. While a number of players missed some action with minor hamstring injuries, there haven’t been any catastrophic injuries similar to what occurred last preseason.

The result has been an increased focus on the fundamentals – particularly tackling. Richt said in addition to the tackling during scrimmages and inside drills, the team added tackle work to perimeter drills as well – a new addition from past seasons.

“It’s a world of difference when you look at how many times we were in pads and tackled to the ground,” Richt said.


Offensive linemen Ben Jones and Chris Davis both missed practice again Saturday, each recovering from ankle sprains that Richt said shouldn’t cost them any playing time.

“I expect Ben to be practicing Monday, and Chris I’m not certain,” Richt said. “Ben might do everything, but my guess would be just scout work. Chris may be ready for scout work, too, I’m just not sure.”

For the second straight day, Kevin Perez handled the first-team snaps at center, and while the 265-pound junior might be a bit overmatched in size, Richt said he’s confident that Perez can get the job done if called upon.

“Perez knows what to do, his body just didn’t get as big as he would hope and we would hope it would,” Richt said. “But he’s very smart, he’s been tremendous in our meeting rooms, and now that he’s had this opportunity to play, he’s done a very admirable job. We could certainly function with him.”


Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said the depth chart in his secondary has taken shape, and it’s not exactly what Richt had discussed earlier this week.

Bryan Evans and Reshad Jones will be the starting safeties, with Brandon Boykin and Prince Miller the starting corners. Behind them, Sanders Commings, Baccari Rambo and Makiri Pugh will handle reserve duties at safety, with Branden Smith and Vance Cuff the first two corners off the bench.

Richt had suggested that Pugh and linebacker Nick Williams might handle the bulk of the work at nickelback, but Martinez indicated that role would actually belong to Miller, with either Cuff or Smith filling in at corner.

Smith’s emergence this preseason has been particularly impressive, Martinez said, given his mix of immense athletic ability and strong work ethic.

“He’s a very competitive player,” Martinez said of the freshman cornerback. “He’s a worker. He’s a fast learner. He’s always trying to do his best. He’s got a great attitude and with his ability, he’s coming on. He’s getting better.”

As to Georgia’s other two freshmen defensive backs, the news is a bit more tepid.

Cornerback Jordan Love has been limited in practice for the past week due to a toe injury, and the reduced reps have been a setback.

Safety Shawn Williams, on the other hand, has gotten more looks than expected due to some other injuries at his position, but Martinez said Williams still isn’t close to being where he needs to be to earn significant playing time on game day.

“We like him, but how much he’ll play this year, right now, that’s undetermined,” Martinez said. “He’s got a ways to go. But that’s expected for a young kid, particularly at safety, which is pretty difficult.”


With Justin Houston suspended for the first two games of the season, Martinez pronounced Demarcus Dobbs and Rod Battle the starters for Oklahoma State – a move that hardly comes as a surprise given the lack of experience further down the depth chart.

Martinez said Dobbs and Battle have both looked good, but the challenge now will be finding players who can fill in as backups consistently.

“Those are the two guys with a tremendous amount of experience, and they’ve been doing a good job,” Martinez said. “The other group of guys are just mixing in there trying to develop the depth. Some guys are getting better.”


Georgia ran through a final scrimmage against the scout teams Saturday, albeit a particularly regimented one.

Richt said the Bulldogs’ first-team offense and defense each ran 20 scripted plays against the scout team, and each of the six kicking units took three reps apiece. Some goal-line and short-yardage work involved tackling, but the majority of the practice was thud drills.

While the workout was brief, Richt said the team got what it needed from the practice.

“We had what I hoped we’d have today – a situation scrimmage that was thud the majority of the plays where we got good tempo, the sense of a game where you have to substitute,” Richt said. “It was good energy. We had 20 plays on each side of the ball. It was spirited, it was organized.”

Georgia returns to practice Monday, and will spend the first two days of the week in full pads. The Bulldogs will go to shorts and shoulder pads Wednesday and Thursday, then have an off day Friday before the game.


According to Jeff Owens' Twitter feed, he found a nice note in his locker after coming off the practice field Saturday. It was an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game. Next up, according to Owens, is a similar invite to the Senior Bowl.

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