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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Practice Notes: Tailbacks to Highlight Wed. Scrimmage

It's just nine days into fall practice, but it's already crunch time for a number of depth-chart battles.

Georgia hits the practice fields twice Wednesday, beginning with a morning session in shoulder pads and a full scrimmage at Sanford Stadium in the afternoon. The scrimmage will be the first opportunity for coaches to evaluate players under game conditions, and a number of key preseason battles will begin to take shape afterward.

"I'm interested to see how those guys compete when they get hit and playing in the stadium and playing out there without their coaches behind them telling them what's going on," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "I'm just excited to see whose going to step up, try to get an idea of what our identity is going to be based on who can make plays and who'll move the football."

The most intriguing of those competitions is at tailback, where five players have earned roughly equal reps with the first-team offense during the first week-and-a-half of practice, but running backs coach Bryan McClendon said the ranks should get thinner after he sees his troops in action.

"I'm really holding off until this scrimmage to sort of get in some sort of pecking order," McClendon said. "It's really up to those guys now."

If fans are curious to see who impresses during the scrimmage, the actual competitors are downright giddy.

"I look at the scrimmage as the first test, the first exam," said sophomore tailback Richard Samuel. "It's the first test to show that you can put together everything we learned and be able to execute. The scrimmage will allow us to show coaches that we can get the job done, so it's pretty important."

Samuel split back-up duties a year ago with Caleb King, and while McClendon insists it remains an open competition, the two are the favorites for playing time again this season.
King, in particular, has made the most of his offseason and garnered the confidence of his coach during the early practices this fall.

"He came in in a lot better shape," McClendon said of King. "He actually picked up weight. He's actually gotten a bit heavier, just as far as body mass. A lot of that is due to age, and a lot of that is due to him taking the opportunity. He works his tail off, and he's making good. I'm excited to see what all those guys are going to do."


Injuries to Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten have Georgia's receiving corps stretched thin as the team readies for its first scrimmage of the year.

Brown injured his finger Saturday and has been limited to route-running drills since. He said he plans to test the finger during Wednesday's morning practice to determine whether he'll be able to participate in the afternoon scrimmage.

Wooten fell victim to soreness in his hamstring and didn't practice Tuesday. Bobo said he didn't expect Wooten to miss significant time but wasn't sure if the freshman would be ready for the scrimmage.

"Marlon and Rantavious have had a couple little setbacks that have held them out of practice, and we're just eager to get them healthy and see what they can do," Bobo said.

While the time away from practice is problematic for the two freshmen, Bobo said he didn't anticipate their absence preventing them from seeing action early in the season this year.

"I really believe we're going to have to play those guys because we're so thin at receiver," he said. "The main thing is just getting them out there in practice so we can get them ready for the season."

Freshman tailback Washaun Ealey is also recovering from a hyperextended elbow, but fullback Shaun Chapas said he expected Ealey to scrimmage Wednesday with a protective brace.


Last week, Bobo was concerned about the offensive line's ability to gel as a unit, but after a few more practices, he's been impressed with how well the group has played together.

Trinton Sturdivant, Chris Davis, Ben Jones, Cordy Glenn and Clint Boling are currently projected as Georgia's starting five, and Bobo said they've taken nearly all the reps with the first team since practice began last week.

"Vince Vance and Justin Anderson are backing up and really pushing those guys for playing time, but right there, that's the five," Bobo said. "You can kind of see us coming together. The more those guys play together, the more they get used to each other, the better they become as a group."

While Bobo has been pleased with the line's progress, he's still not ready to proclaim the unit set. That, he said, will take a bit more time.

"We've got the ability to be a good offensive line," Bobo said. "If we could stay together and stay healthy, in a couple years we might be great. A lot of people say we're going to be great, but that takes time. But we definitely have the ability."


His freshman season didn't end how he had hoped, but Blair Walsh said his confidence hasn't been shaken. In fact, he feels a lot better heading into this season than he did a year ago.

"This time last year the head was spinning," Walsh said. "Just knowing what to expect is a lot better. You know how to pace yourself, and that helps a whole lot."

Walsh is competing against junior college transfer Brandon Bogotay for kicking duties this fall after struggling on kickoffs and going through a minor slump on field goals in the latter half of the 2008 season.

But while last year was a frustrating daze, this season, Walsh is ready for whatever might be in store for him.

"Coming in here and having a full summer to get ready," he said, "I definitely feel more prepared."


This year marks Michael Moore's fifth fall camp at Georgia, so he's not easily impressed by what he sees on the practice fields. But then again, freshman Orson Charles isn't your everyday tight end.

Moore said Charles made two spectacular catches over the middle during Monday's practice sessions that had Georgia's receivers in awe and had Moore wondering what Charles might be able to accomplish on game day.

"Orson Charles is going to bring another dynamic that we haven't seen before," Moore said. "He's a great pass-catching tight end. He just knows how to go up and get the ball. He's a different body type. He's like a big wide receiver, and it's going to cause some matchup problems."


Georgia's three losses last season weren't so much three bad games. Instead, it was three bad halves of football, and that's something Bobo hopes the Bulldogs can avoid this season.

From spring practice through Tuesday's workouts, the key element Bobo has looked for in his players has been consistency. And while things haven't been perfect so far, Bobo has been happy with the results.

"There was maybe one day where I wasn't pleased with the effort and thought maybe we wasted a day, but for the most part, guys have been getting after it and trying to get better every day," Bobo said. "That's our main focus is to play hard for four quarters and play with some consistency, and that starts now."

For all the criticism the defense earned during dismal performances against Alabama, Florida and Georgia Tech a year ago, Bobo said a portion of the blame has to fall to his offensive players, too. While the D struggled to make stops, Georgia's offense mustered just three points in the first half against Florida, was shut out during the critical third quarter against Tech and failed to dent the scoreboard until the second half against the Crimson Tide.

Regardless of the defensive improvement, Bobo said the offense has to do its part to help swing momentum this year.

"We want to be more consistent, have less three-and-outs, try to change field position, limit giving the defense a short field and stuff like that," Bobo said. "There were a couple of times we might have been struggling defensively and then we disappear as an offense and maybe could have changed some momentum in certain games."


The biggest question from concerned fans since practice began seems to be about which quarterbacks are throwing all the interceptions.

Head coach Mark Richt pointed the finger at the No. 2 unit after Monday's practice, but Bobo got a bit more specific.

"I think the defense has done a nice job of making plays on balls in the air, catching some balls and intercepting them," he said. "But when you've got two freshmen quarterbacks in there, you're going to have turnovers. That's just how it goes."

There is some good news, however, as Bobo sees it: "I'd rather it happen now than Saturdays," he said.


Bobo said a key for wide receiver A.J. Green's success this season will be moving him around the field to create confusion on the defense. Whether a lot of motion will become a widespread part of the offensive attack, however, will depend a lot on who else lines up alongside Green.

"It really depends what the other guys that are in there, what they can handle," Bobo said. "If we end up with Orson Charles and a couple other freshmen receivers, I don't know how much they can handle movement. You want them to go out there and be able to play fast and execute using their athletic ability."


Sally Page said...

Your notebook content is outrageously awesome in regard to the amount you have. Wow.

Tony said...

David, Great content as always and very well writen.

1 question for you, From the practices you have seen how has Cox's timing and rapport with the wide receivers? Thanks again and keep it coming.


David Hale said...

We don't get to watch much of the pass skels or 11-on-11 drills, so it's hard for me to give you too much firsthand info, but in talking to the receivers, they LOVE playing with Joe. In fact, Mike Moore made a good point the other day -- with so many young receivers, Cox actually is probably a better option than Stafford. Stafford throws with such zip that it's often a tough adjustment for guys coming from high school. With Joe, he's extremely accurate and throws a more catchable ball.

Aaron said...

Thanks, as always, for the fantastic info, David.