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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Without Stars, Dawgs May be More Dynamic

I took some questions from my Twitter followers before interviewing Mark Richt last week, and @Grayson47 had an interesting query: "I really love our offense but has (Richt) ever thought of adding sum spread stuff in now that we have a few more breakout speed players?"

The question looms even larger beyond this year, as Logan Gray and Aaron Murray -- the top two quarterbacks in line to succeed Joe Cox -- are far more athletic than Georgia's recent run of pocket passers.

That potential is not lost on Richt.

"I think you have to look at your quarterback's skill sets and do what he does best," he said. "You have to do that. I think historically, whether it's at Georgia or Florida State, we've been able to do that with our offensive systems."

Richt pointed to his use of Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke -- two completely different styles of QBs -- at Florida State as evidence of a more dynamic offensive scheme and said that even at Georgia, when both David Greene and D.J. Shockley were on the roster, he tried to incorporate non-traditional sets in his offense to accommodate the more diverse set of skills.

"We did more things that Shockley could do well, we did more things that Greene could do well," he said. "It was the same system, but we emphasized certain elements of it to do what our quarterback does best."

The bottom line, Richt said: "We have elements of the spread in our offense right now.”

Ah, but perhaps the better question is -- how many of those elements will fans see in 2009?

The loss of Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno would seem to indicate a step back for Georgia's offense, and in many ways, it probably does. But while those two stars are gone, the overall roster may actually be a bit more functional than last year's more traditional sets.

At SEC Media Days, Richt said he expected to use Gray in a Wildcat type of package regardless of how the team's depth chart shakes out, and Murray would obviously offer similar possibilities. But it doesn't end with the quarterbacks.

Tight end Orson Charles is big enough to handle the traditional role of Georgia blocker, but his speed and athleticism allow him to split out wide, too. Carlton Thomas may have his troubles in pass blocking due to his small stature, but as a ball carrier, he's as dynamic and shifty as any tailback Georgia has had during Richt's tenure. Freshman Branden Smith, a high school track star, was being mentioned as a two-way player at Georgia before he even committed, and with a thin corps of receivers, that plan is still very much alive.

Add all of that with a veteran offensive line and you have the formula for what could be a very dynamic offense in 2009.

"Usually you either have to protect an inexperienced quarterback or an inexperienced line, and we've had to juggle that," Richt said. "Three years ago, very inexperienced quarterback. Last two seasons, very inexperienced line. Now, we have an experienced offensive line and really Joe is an experienced player in my mind because he knows the system much. We don't have to protect him much or protect our line, and I think we'll be free to do pretty much whatever we want."

That's exciting news for Gray, who knows cracking the starting lineup might be tough, but finding opportunities for backups like him to make a few plays a game is an intriguing possibility.

"It's nice to have guys that are versatile and can do different things and make defenses have to game plan for a lot of different stuff. You can throw a lot of different things at them. It's real early right now, but hopefully we'll do some different things and get people in different situations. I'm not Coach (Mike) Bobo or Coach Richt, but I feel like we've got some guys that can definitely change things up from the traditional Georgia running game and passing game."

As it turns out, Bobo and Richt both agree -- assuming that offensive line holds up the way they expect, and Cox proves to be the same veteran leader on the field this fall that he has been during the offseason.

No, fans won't have Stafford and Moreno to watch this year, but there's a good chance they'll get to see some plays on Saturday that they haven't seen in a while -- if ever.

"Now the line is mature, the quarterback's mature," Richt said, "there'll be nothing from a schematic point of view that will hold us back, which is exciting for our coaches."

-- And a side note: How about changes to defensive schemes, you ask?

Well, we talked with Willie Martinez on Tuesday, and he wasn't exactly forthcoming with a lot of details. He did say that he expected Jeff Owens, Geno Atkins and Kade Weston to each see the field a lot this year -- though probably not at the same time.

The biggest change that will almost certainly be in store on that side of the ball is the use of linebackers as pass rushers, something Richt said will now be the standard philosophy on defense after experimenting with it with Brandon Miller two years ago and again with several veteran LBs this spring.

"We felt like with Brandon Miller we probably didn't take advantage enough of his abilities," Richt said. "He played Sam linebacker and when the Sam left the game he was standing on the sideline. He wasn't really producing for us. It was late in his career that we really found out that we should let this kid rush the passer in nickel situations. So we're basically making that our normal mode of operation now. If you're a Sam linebacker and it's nickel time, you're going to learn how to rush the passer. The more that people spread the less that you're going to play the Sam linebacker. We've got to get those Sam linebackers working."

-- As a second side note, if you're waiting to learn if some new tricks might be up Jon Fabris' sleeve on kickoffs this year, keep waiting. Here's what Blair Walsh had to say: "I'm being completely honest with you: I have no idea."


Anonymous said...

David - Good stuff, thanks a lot.

IveyLeaguer said...

THAT'S good reporting, David. It's a relief to read and actually LEARN something.