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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rounding Up the Rookies

Mark Richt made headlines before the preseason by saying he expected all his freshmen skill-position players -- RBs, WRs, TEs, DEs, LBs, DBs -- to see the field this season.

That's an easy claim to make before you've seen any of them work, but after three weeks of practice, the Georgia coach isn't exactly backing off that goal.

"The majority of them are still absolutely in the race," Richt said. "Some are right in the thick of it, and some of them are kind of right on the fringe, but they're still battling, still working."

We'll see a bunch of the freshmen Week 1 against Oklahoma State, if for no other reason that it should be a scorcher for a mid-day kickoff in Stillwater, so Richt plans to do a good bit of substituting to keep his starters fresh.

More than just scrimmage downs, however, Richt is planning for freshmen to be key contributors on special teams.

"They certainly can help on special teams immediately in my opinion, even if it's a scout team look," Richt said. "But we've got to gear them up to be ready to run down the field and make plays on special teams. Then as they're gaining confidence – Game 1, they may not be ready to play a bunch of scrimmage downs because of the amount of knowledge that you have to have to do it well, but by Game 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, they may be starting."
But even the players who don't get action early could still find their way onto the field. Richt said it's usually not until Week 4 that the coaches decide who will redshirt, so there's always a chance for a guy to develop late and make a charge.

"You just don't know with injuries and you don't know who's going to perk up all of a sudden," Richt said. "Once we get into a little bit of a different routine and everything becomes a little more familiar, they start to play a little faster and they're not as confused. So all of a sudden a guy who you didn't think had a chance after scrimmage No. 2 has a lot of life."

Like Richt, I was eager to get an idea about which freshmen might play, so last month I put together a quick rundown of the odds for playing time for each new Bulldog. After nearly a month of seeing them in action, however, it's time to update the rundown and give you a clearer view of who you're likely to see on Saturdays this fall...

THE SURE THINGS

These guys will be on the field and contributing -- both on special teams and scrimmage downs -- when Georgia opens its season against Oklahoma State.

Marlon Brown (WR) and Rantavious Wooten (WR)

Background: To see action immediately, both receivers simply needed to prove they wouldn't be complete disasters. They've had no problem doing that, and with just four other scholarship wideouts on the roster, Brown and Wooten will not only see action, but probably a whole lot of it.

Quotables:

Michael Moore on Marlon Brown:
"Marlon is a matchup right off the bat, right when he lines up. He's 6-5, about 215, so when it comes to jump balls, one-on-one, I like his chances over any type of DB because no one is going to be able to compare with his size."

Brandon Boykin on Wooten: "Fast, real fast, real quick feet, and he runs great routes already. I can't wait to see what he's going to do in the future."

Wooten on his own goals: I'm looking forward to playing, Marlon's looking forward to playing, but whatever happens, when I get on the field and get that chance, I'm going to take full advantage of it. So whatever turn they give me, I'm going for it."

Joe Cox on Brown and Wooten: "They're not far off. When you come in as a freshman at any position, you get to a point where your head starts spinning, and then you start coming out of it. I think they're definitely out of that fog now, and they're starting to recognize things quicker and run the right routes. They're coming along nicely."

Mark Richt on Brown and Wooten: "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."

Chances of playing time: 100 percent

Orson Charles (TE) and Arthur Lynch (TE)

Background:
No player has earned higher praise this preseason than Charles, who seems to add new fans by the day with his work in practice. He has a great attitude, has already added some size and strength, and looks to be an immediate weapon at tight end.

Lynch has floated under the radar compared to the more high-profile Charles, but his impact could be just as significant. He has surprising athleticism, but it's his 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame and immense strength that could be the biggest addition to the team, particularly since Georgia doesn't have another true blocking tight end while Bruce Figgins serves a six-game suspension.

Quotables:

Joe Cox on Charles: "He's always been a good route runner. Now it's just fine-tuning certain routes, and I think he's gotten better every day. He's been working on his blocking a lot and done a good job getting better."

Aron White on Charles: "He can run and jump, he's a tremendous athlete. He's a big weight-room guy. He came in and he immediately wanted to pair up with the muscle-bound guys like Fred Munzenmaier and Shaun Chapas. Those are the guys he gravitates towards in the weight room, the guys who hit the heaviest reps. That was a very good thing to see – a person who wants to work and is eager to work – and he's translating that very well over to the football field. He's even bigger than when he first got here."

A.J. Green on Charles: "Orson is a great tight end. He can run, he can block, he's big, he's fast, I think he's going to do great things for us."

John Lilly on Charles and Lynch: "You usually know when someone comes in out of high school, you have a sense of their strengths and weaknesses. But I do think our guys, particularly the ones who have been around here a while, are pretty good judges of talent when they get out there in the summer. But at the same time, I don't want to put expectations on Orson or any other freshmen to have a season like A.J. had last year, because those only come around once in a lifetime. But he's eager, and so is Arthur Lynch, so that's a good sign."

Aron White on Lynch: "Arthur is just a guy who, I don't want to say a brute, because that's the wrong word, but he's a big muscle-bound guy. He's naturally big, but he's played basketball his whole life so he can still move and run and jump and cut. That was just a surprise to me how athletic he was. He's deceptively fast because he's so long and big that it doesn't look like he's moving that fast, but he's out there running with the best of them. I feel like he's a guy who brings a lot of versatility in a traditional tight end body."

Richt on Lynch and Charles: "Artie and Orson both, we're getting them a lot of reps in practice. We're training both of them on every special teams unit we can. So we're planning on playing them both."

Chances of playing time:
100 percent

Branden Smith (CB)

Background: Smith came in as perhaps the most highly regarded of Georgia's recruits, but for all the natural ability he had, there's still a learning curve. He's clearly behind Prince Miller and Brandon Boykin at cornerback now, and likely Sanders Commings and Vance Cuff as well. That doesn't mean he won't see playing time, however, both on defense and special teams, where he is in the mix at kick returner. Richt also considered Smith an option at wide receiver, but thus far that hasn't been a significant issue.

Quotables:

Smith on playing offense:
"I'm still trying to focus on defense, trying to get my technique down. I still need to improve there, so right now I'm not even thinking about offense."

Smith on playing special teams:
"I've been working a little bit on returns, but I'm trying to stay focused on defense and get my technique down. I like doing returns, but I'm just leading off Prince, following him and listening to him."

Richt on Smith:
"He can recover extremely fast. Guys as fast as he is can at times make a mistake, get beat, and then recover quick enough to get back and make a play. But he can't just rely on that ability. He's got to be an expert at his technique and his knowledge, and if he does that, then he can really put that speed and leaping ability and ball-catching ability to use. Instead of recovering and trying to strip the ball out, he might be in position for an interception."

Chances of playing time: 95 percent

Mike Gilliard (LB)

Background:
The linebacker depth chart is as crowded as any, but Gilliard lucked into a good situation early when Akeem Dent, Darius Dewberry and Nick Williams all missed some time with hamstring injuries. Marcus Washington was moved to defensive end and Marcus Dowtin came down with a nasty case of strep throat, and all of a sudden Gilliard was taking reps with the first-team and getting a lot of attention. He made the most of it, racking up five tackles and half-a-sack in the first scrimmage to earn praise from head coach Mark Richt and others.

Quotables:

Rennie Curran on Gilliard:
"Even as a recruit you could tell he had his head on right. He asks the right questions, and he's a focused player who just wants to get in there and make plays. He learns fast, and he doesn't make the same mistakes twice. He's picked up well on the terminology, and he's earned the trust of Coach Jancek, which is huge."

Richt on Gilliard: "I don't think there's much doubt we plan on playing him. When everybody comes back healthy, I don't know where he'll end up on the depth chart, but I think he's played enough to where we wouldn't be afraid to let him play some scrimmage downs and I know our special teams coaches are trying to find every one they can get."

Chances of playing time: 90 percent

IN GOOD SHAPE

These guys haven't gotten the same stamp of approval that the first group has earned, but given Richt's commitment to playing freshmen and the improvement they have made during the preseason, they're likely to see the field sooner than later.


Jordan Love (CB)

Background: Love has been overshadowed from the start by Branden Smith, but his combination of size and speed make him an intriguing player. He's done enough during the preseason to warrant consideration, but he has also battled a nagging toe injury he suffered in high school -- Richt says it doesn't quite rise to the level of turf toe -- that could slow his progress. If nothing else, Love figures to be an excellent candidate for special teams work.

Quotables:

Richt on Love:
"Jordan has done very well, and we still have every intention of playing Jordan this year."

Chances of playing time: 80 percent

Shawn Williams (S)

Background:
Williams arrived with a decent amount of buzz coming from Early County, but his stock has risen among his teammates quickly as he has shown he's willing to lay out a hit with the best of them. He has the ability to fit right in to the tradition of hard-hitting safeties at Georgia, and with the number of preseason injuries at the position, it's not hard to envision a scenario in which Williams will be needed in the secondary this season.

Quotables:

Rennie Curran on Williams:
"A guy that's still learning but has definitely impressed me is Shawn Williams. Looking at him, you see he's hungry, he's trying to make that big hit, be around the ball and make something happen. And he's got a little mean streak in him, too, and you always want to see that from your safeties. That's our last line of defense, so they've got to be the meanest."

Chances of playing time: 80 percent

WORK LEFT TO DO

These guys haven't wrapped up playing time just yet, but all are in position if they continue their steady progress through the next few weeks. There's a chance they may not see action Week 1, but will remain possibilities down the road as the veterans wear down with injuries.

Abry Jones (DT)

Background:
Putting Jones in this category is a bit of a misnomer. He's done the work he needed to do, but he may still find himself on the outside looking in simply because of the numbers Georgia has at defensive tackle. Seniors Kade Weston, Jeff Owens and Geno Atkins and impressive sophomore DeAngelo Tyson make a strong two-deep, and Ricardo Crawford, Brandon Wood and Brandon Wheeling add veteran depth. Still, Jones has more than impressed in his first few weeks on the job, and if the coaching staff can possibly justify playing him, he'll be on the field.

Quotables:

Rodney Garner on Jones:
"Abry's been very pleasant. To be honest, at this stage he's farther along than DeAngelo (Tyson) was last year. I think if he'll continue to improve, he'll have a really good future. He's got to get in the weight room, and he's got to get stronger. He's got to get his body in better condition because you can start to tell where the grind is just starting to wear on him. But he has a lot of playmaking ability. He is by far head and shoulders above the other two guys."

Jeff Owens on Jones: "He's doing a tremendous job. He looks great. He's learning. What I like about him is he's willing to work, willing to learn and keep getting better. That's what it all boils down to."

Chances of playing time: 75 percent

Montez Robinson (DE)


Background: What once looked like a thin pool of defensive ends has actually shaped up to be a bit deeper than originally thought. Rod Battle has looked healthy, Demarcus Dobbs has taken a step forward, and Marcus Washington and Kiante Tripp have both looked decent since transitioning from other positions to D-end. That doesn't mean Robinson won't be used, however, just that it might not be as much of a sure thing as it seemed earlier in the year.

Quotables:

Robinson on adjusting to demanding coaches:
"My high school coach was similar to Fab, and he told me before I left, there will be people 10 times worse than me – not as a negative, but as demanding and wanting the best. Coach Fab just wants the best for me, and I soak it in and I've been enjoying it."

Richt on Robinson: "Montez has come a long way, and we haven't counted him out yet as far as playing this season."

Demarcus Dobbs on Robinson and Reuben Faloughi: "It's not my decision, but the way they're coming along, I have no doubt they'll be seeing some playing time."

Chances of playing time: 70 percent

Brandon Bogotay (K)

Background:
Bogotay is a junior college transfer brought in to help on kickoffs and, ostensibly, compete for the field-goal and PAT duties. The last word was that sophomore Blair Walsh was leading the battle in both departments, but Richt said Monday that he didn't plan to reveal any results before game day. So... will Bogotay be the guy? Your guess is as good as mine.

Quotables:

Richt on the kicker competition:
"I doubt that will ever be announced before the first game, so don't ask. We've narrowed it down to two, so that's pretty good."

Chances of playing time: 65 percent

Reuben Faloughi (DE)

Background:
I didn't even have Faloughi's name on this list the first time I ran through the freshmen, but after hearing from coaches and players, he definitely belongs on it. Faloughi's a walk-on who came in undersized, but he's packed on nearly 20 pounds already and looks like a slightly more svelt version of Quentin Moses. Richt raved about Faloughi's attitude and while the coaching staff is usually unlikely to burn a redshirt for a walk-on, there's still a chance Faloughi could find his way onto the field.

Quotables:

Richt on Faloughi:
"Rueben is a guy who is competing like he wants to earn a scholarship. He's athletic, he's smart, he's very determined and focused. He's one of those guys that was very, very close to being offered a scholarship, but sometimes you just don't have enough to give out. We were thankful to get him because he did have some scholarship offers. But he's determined to not only be a Bulldog, but to earn a scholarship and earn some playing time."

Chances of playing time:
40 percent

LIFE SUPPORT

These guys haven't been written off completely, but they'll either need injuries ahead of them or a big boost in progress to make the cut.

Chase Vasser (LB)

Background: Vasser has been working primarily at middle linebacker, which in many ways is the defensive equivalent of being a freshman QB. With a crowded depth chart ahead of him, finding playing time at LB wasn't a likely outcome regardless. The more disappointing thing for Vasser, however, is that he hasn't secured a role on special teams either, and that could mean a sure redshirt.

Quotables:

Richt on Vasser:
"Chase is more of a bubble guy right now. He's got to prove that he can be reliable on special teams at this point, and he's still got a ways to go to learn what's got to be done as an every-down scrimmage player. We haven't given up on the thought of him playing as a true freshman, but he's probably a little farther off than some of the others."

Vasser on a potential redshirt:
"At first I was a little intimidated because I really wanted to play, but after talking to everybody they said if you redshirt, there can be a benefit because you get to learn more and you get to get bigger."

Chances of playing time: 25 percent

Aaron Murray (QB)

Background:
Of the two freshmen quarterbacks, Murray has certainly been the better performer in Georgia's scrimmages. Still, Logan Gray remains the clear No. 2 on the depth chart, and Richt said his third-string QB is unlikely to avoid a redshirt unless it becomes absolutely necessary.

Quotables:

Murray on his comfort level:
"It's a lot different. I'm definitely a lot more comfortable out there. It was nerveracking, and I think I threw about 15 balls over the wall my first day. Now I feel a lot more comfortable. I still have some things I need to work on, but it's a lot better."

Richt on Murray and Zach Mettenberger: "In the spring, they went a long way, but until they can step into that huddle with some confidence and really convince their teammates and their coaches they're ready, they may be still be potential guys rather than guys who are ready to move up on the chart."

Chances of playing time:
25 percent

Chris Burnette (OL)

Background:
Coaches love Burnette's intelligence and attitude, but there's simply a numbers game ahead of him on the line. He's been working at both guard and center, and had the ankle injury to Ben Jones been more severe, we might have seen Burnette this season. As it stands, however, he's not likely to get any action.

Quotables:

Clint Boling on Burnette:
"Chris is a really smart guy, and this summer he picked up things right away. I think if we had to, he could play for us right away."

Chances of playing time: 20 percent

Washaun Ealey (RB)

Background:
A lot of fans held out hope that Ealey might be the man to earn the starting tailback job right away, but that hasn't been the case. At best, Ealey is the No. 4 tailback right now, but the more likely depth chart would have him at 5 or 6. An early elbow injury in camp limited his progress and likely sealed his fate as a redshirt this season.

Quotables:

Carlton Thomas on Ealey:
"I think Washaun is coming along real good, but he's like every freshman, just a little bit excited to be at a level you've never been at before. He's just trying not to make mistakes, but he's running the ball hard."

Richt on Ealey: "He's doing OK. He hyperextended his elbow early in camp, and that slowed him down considerably. Now I think he's finally feeling good again and we're getting some of that energy back. But he lost a little bit of his energy level, he wasn't just sticking it in there quite as hard when that elbow was beat up a little bit. He began to become a little bit cautious, but now he's starting to free himself up to go hard again."

Chances of playing time: 15 percent

NO CHANCE

Barring something absurd happening -- the entire No. 2 unit gets suspended after streaking down Lumpkin carrying empty kegs? -- these guys aren't seeing the field in 2009.

Zach Mettenberger (QB)

Background:
At this point, Mettenberger appears to be at best a co-No. 3 and more likely the No. 4 QB on the depth chart. That won't be enough to keep him out of a redshirt, and that's probably for the best. Mettenberger has a cannon for an arm, but the details of playing the position could use more time to develop. The potential is definitely there that, while he has struggled during virtually every scrimmage opportunity he has had this year, he could take the redshirt, iron out his flaws, and compete for a starting job next year.

Quotables:

Mettenberger on his game:
"For me and Aaron, we're just going to have to study our tails off to know everything about the offense. We need to know every defense out there. We're kind of a step behind with that compared to Logan, who has been here three years, but whatever happens, happens."

Richt on Mettenberger's scrimmage struggles: "I hate it for him because the great majority of his passes that were incomplete were batted at the line of scrimmage. When he got in there, he didn't get much help from the line at all. When Mettenberger gets time and space, he can really throw it beautifully, but he's just not getting that luxury right now."

Chances of playing time: 5 percent

Derrick Lott (DT)

Background:
The big defensive tackle has plenty of potential, but he didn't come in in the type of shape he needed and it has shown so far. He's well behind Abry Jones, which means there's almost no chance he could work his way up the depth chart in time to avoid a redshirt.

Quotables:

Kade Weston on Lott:
"Coming in as a freshman, the speed of the game is different, so you just have to give him some time to catch up with the game. But he's just got to keep working, and he'll catch on to it."

Chances of playing time: 5 percent

Kwame Geathers (DT)

Background: Geathers qualified late and didn't arrive at Georgia until four days into fall camp. When he got there, he was woefully out of shape and has been playing catch-up ever since. Rodney Garner said there's clear potential for Geathers, but it won't be seen on the field this year.

Quotables:

Geathers on his own performance:
"The first couple weeks were pretty hard, coming in late and seeing all the other guys in pretty good shape. I was back at home trying to stay in shape, but I've found out you can't be prepared for a college workout. It's a different level."

Chances of playing time: 1 percent

Dallas Lee (OL) and Austin Long (OL)

Background:
Lee was an early enrollee, but it didn't do him a whole lot of good. Yes, he got some of the yelling by Stacy Searels out of the way, but there's plenty more where that came from. His spring ended with an injury that limited his work, and he hasn't shown much this fall to show that he's ready to compete at a crowded position.

Long hurt his back and required surgery this spring. He won't be ready to resume regular workouts until November or December.

Chances of playing time: 0 percent

6 comments:

MikeInValdosta said...

Outstanding piece, DH.

I hope we are able to Redshirt more than expected.

Anonymous said...

Great read - thanks

helpmyunbelief said...

David,

Great stuff, as usual. I think it's easy to get excited about the freshmen (every year), since they come in with all the potential and non of the problems (that come in real games). Not to mention, all of the guys that are a year or two ahead of them that came in with the same hype. That said, these guys are where the team is headed and it is encouraging to hear about their hard work and contribution to the team - whether they end up playing or redshirting. Thanks for the great work and producing must read material week after week.

grace...Adam

The Watch Dawg said...

Awesome write-up David, most informative off-season piece I've read all year.

Anonymous said...

I say that if they are close, play them.

One other thing not mentioned in the early playing time debate is that there is a pretty strong correlation between the guys who get into trouble are guys who are injured or are not playing much.

It is good to give them a taste of action so that they want to work that much harder to get more playing time.

Wow, Faloughi and Shawn Williams. I think those may be my two favorites in 3 years.

Gbafdp23 said...

Thanks DH! Awesome Read. I think Orson will be the biggest contributor this year from the Freshman.