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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Notebook: Freshmen Ready For Action

The opening game of each season tends to bring a bit of first-time jitters for Georgia's freshmen, but for tight end Orson Charles, the scene at Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday will seem a bit familiar.

It's not that Charles has ever visited Stillwater, Okla. before, but for the past six months, he's been dreaming about what the trip will be like.

"Ever since I found out I was going to Georgia, I looked at the schedule and I've just been dreaming about it – imagining scoring touchdowns, making that crucial block and just celebrating with my teammates after the victory," Charles said. "I'm getting enough sleep, but I'm always dreaming about the same thing."

Charles' fellow freshman tight end, Arhtur Lynch, said he hasn't been quite as consumed by visions of his first college downs, but he's definitely a bit anxious about what's in store.

"In high school, we had a lot of big games, but I can't really get a grasp on what it's going to be like," Lynch said. "It's going to be fun, it's going to be exciting, but it's going to be nerve-wracking because you know this isn't high school anymore."

Mark Richt has been down this road with freshmen before, but admits this season will be a bit different than even he is used to. It has been since 2003 that Georgia opened on the road – meaning there isn't a player on the roster that can pass along any advice on how the freshmen should handle the situation.

That, Richt said, might not be a bad thing.

"Those guys have no idea what's about to happen to them," he said. "They say the term ‘Ignorance is bliss' and it's probably true. The less you tell them, the better."

Regardless, it will be an experience the freshmen won't forget, Richt said. And more importantly, it's one they've waited a long time to enjoy.

"Camp has been long," Charles said. "We've been seeing too much of each other, been banging too much, and now we finally get to leave and go hit somebody else."


In last season's opener, Georgia went to then-freshman A.J. Green on just the third offensive play of the game and Green responded with a 36-yard catch to set up a touchdown.

"There's nothing quite like that first catch," Green said.

Richt said he's like to do a similar favor for a few of this year's true freshmen in Week 1, but he's not making any promises.

"It would be nice to, but I don't even know if we've established what the first play will be yet," Richt said. "I think the first time the opportunity arises for the freshmen, it's nice when they do make the play. It just gives them instant confidence. If they don't make the play, you've got to be there for them and give them another chance and let them know you believe in them."


It's not just the freshmen that are excited to get their first taste of action Saturday. Marcus Washington has been at Georgia for five seasons, but it's been more than a year since he last took the field on game day.

In the meantime, he's recovered from a serious shoulder injury and switched positions, from linebacker to defensive end, which makes Georgia's date with Oklahoma State as close to a new beginning as it gets.

"It's been a long time coming," Washington said. "I haven't played in over a year, and it's a new position, so it's almost like a fresh start for me. I just can't wait to get out there and see what I can do."


The freshmen may not know what to expect Saturday, but Richt admits, he's not much different.

With Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and Mohamed Massaquoi – the stalwarts of Georgia's offense for the past two seasons – now in the NFL, it's hard to make an accurate prediction as to what the Bulldogs might look like when they take the field against Oklahoma State. But rather than nerves, Richt said he's feeling more excitement at the possibilities.

"I get excited," Richt said. "I'm anxious, but curious is maybe the best word. I've very curious to see what we've got, curious to see how we'll respond in this game and throughout the season. But you get a good taste in Game 1."


Richt isn't giving away any scoop on who might handle the kickoff duties at Oklahoma State – sophomore Blair Walsh or JuCo transfer Brandon Bogotay – but he definitely sounds like he's gained a lot more confidence in the incumbent since the preseason began.

"I see a lot different focus from Blair," Richt said. "I think the competition of Bogotay coming in has really helped that situation. Both of those guys are really capable."

The competition has certainly kept both players sharp, but Walsh said it's not necessarily Bogotay's presence that has spurred him on to greater heights.

"I'm not the type of person who lays back when he has a job, but competition pushes everybody," Walsh said. "It's not just about bringing guys in so you have somebody pushing you the entire time. You've got to do what you've got to do and just working hard for me has been the key."

After a strong start to the season, Walsh struggled down the stretch last year – particularly when attempting directional kickoffs, a favorite philosophy of Georgia's kicking coach, Jon Fabris.

Whether the Bulldogs choose to kick to the corner or boot it deep, however, Walsh said he's aware that Oklahoma State presents a significant problem. Kick returner Perrish Cox is closing in on the Big 12 record for return yards, and his 895 return yards and two touchdowns made him one of the top threats in the country.

"We know what we're up against," Walsh said. "We know the guy is very good, and we've got to be on top of our game."

Walsh plans to be on top of his game, too. Regardless of which kicker is handling kickoffs, Walsh said he has something to prove, starting with Saturday's contest against the Cowboys.

"I've been working hard and I have something to prove to everybody to show that I can do what's asked of me and that I'm the guy for the job," Walsh said.


Oklahoma State's defense took a good bit of criticism a year ago after being embarrassed against rivals Texas Tech and Oklahoma and finishing 93rd in the nation in total defense.

That might be some encouraging information for Georgia, but with new defensive coordinator Bill Young now at the helm for the Cowboys, there's a bit of mystery as to just how good the unit might be.

"You look at where he's been, and if it's consistent, then schematically you know this is probably what he likes to do," Richt said. "But then as you're studying his scheme, you're not studying his personnel. If you're studying Oklahoma State's personnel, it's in a system that they're probably not going to be running. Coaches don't like the unknown, and we don't know for sure what's going to happen."

That makes the task of preparing for Oklahoma State a bit more of a challenge than normal.
The plan, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said, is simply to watch the Cowboys' personnel and study Young's past work, then hope to come up with a few options that look like they have a chance to be successful. The bottom line, however, is for Georgia's offense to be good at what they do best.

"You've got rules for your plays and blocking assignments and routes for different coverages," Bobo said. "So what we can execute and what we feel gives us the best chance to win against any kind of package is what we'll go into the game with."


Don't ask freshman cornerback Branden Smith to pick out which of Georgia's young receivers has been the most impressive this preseason. With all he's been trying to learn in such a short time, they've all looked good.

"Right now everyone's impressing me," Smith said. "The college level is a whole other level. I'm still improving, still trying to learn. Their routes are so smooth, and everybody's running good routes. So everybody's challenging me."

Of course, when it comes to playing favorites, Smith isn't pulling punches. As difficult as it might be to cover any of Georgia's receivers, he knows one has a little more to his game than the rest.

"A.J., he's amazing," Smith said of sophomore receiver A.J. Green. "Anything in the air, he goes and gets it."


Richard Samuel will get the start at tailback Saturday, and he's expecting a pretty significant number of carries, too. While that might be a good opportunity for him to gloat after numerous fans wondered if he might be better suited to linebacker this offseason, fullback Shaun Chapas said he never heard Samuel complain about the critiques.

"As far as I could tell, I don't think he ever let any of that bother him," Chapas said. "He's always been a student of the game and tried to go in and get better each day."

That attitude hasn't changed much in the wake of his recent success, either. Samuel ignored the critics at his low points, and he said he hasn't paid much attention to the enthusiasm surrounding him now.

"I'd say people are a little more excited," he said, "but I'm just going on with my day."


With just six scholarship receivers, Georgia's coaches know they'll be counting on several unproven players to come up big in the passing game. That list might start with redshirt freshman Tavarres King, and Richt said he's been pleased with the attitude King has had throughout the preseason.

"The one area of improvement that I have seen has been in his confidence level," Richt said. "It's much more positive and stronger this fall. In this past scrimmage, in the running game, he really competed. That's something that is an indication of his confidence level."

After getting a taste of action early last season, then riding the bench with a medical redshirt the final three months, King admits he's in a far better emotional state this time around. The promise of significant playing time and a shot at some big plays is enough to keep anyone motivated.

"It's kind of exciting going into the season knowing that I could be a marquee guy, that I could be what Mohamed Massaquoi was last year," King said.


Sophomore cornerback Brandon Boykin is the likely starter at kick returner, Richt said Thursday, while Prince Miller will handle the majority of the punt returns against Oklahoma State.

While Boykin is the top candidate for kick returns, Richt said freshman Branden Smith and Samuel are also in the mix, adding that Samuel's duties as the starting tailback – even with just two scholarship running backs likely to play – hasn't changed the way the team will use him on special teams.

"If we thought Richard was the best return man, he'd be there," Richt said. "Richard's actually covering some kicks for us. We're trying to put our best people in a position to help us win, and we think our special teams plays are just as important as our scrimmage down plays."


Prior to the start of fall camp, Richt said he anticipated that a number of Georgia's true freshmen would see action on special teams this season.

As Georgia prepares for Oklahoma State, Richt said he's not sure how many will actually start, but most of the 12 who are traveling to Stillwater will see some action on special teams.

"I don't know how many true freshmen are starters, but I know they're all over our special teams, and in the course of a game, you tend to get into your two-deep pretty quick," Richt said. "So I wouldn't be surprised if a good many of them play for us on a special team."


The 12 freshmen making the trip for Georgia are:

QBs Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray; RB Washaun Ealey; WRs Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten; TEs Arthur Lynch and Orson Charles; DLs Abry Jones and Montez Robinson; LB Mike Gilliard; DBs Branden Smith and Shawn Williams

Sophomore kicker Brandon Bogotay will also be on the trip.


The college football season officially kicks off tonight with games between Oregon and Boise State and South Carolina and NC State. While Richt's focus will still be on Saturday's contest in Oklahoma, he said he'll be keeping a careful watch on tonight's games, too.

"When you watch those games, you can do some role playing. You're watching it and you're like, ‘What would I do in this situation right now?' It's kind of a practice game for you. Situations, as much as you try to simulate them out here, there's always something that could happen that you didn't plan for. When I watch these games, situations will come up, and I might get on the horn with a coach and say, ‘Did you see what happened last night? Are we ready for that?' There's a checklist for all these situations, but everyone once in a while something will pop up."

*NOTE: Our meetings with Richt on Thursdays come before practice, so there won't be any post practice notes. I'll post the release from UGA after practice though.


Anonymous said...

Another idea for the Samuel-Thomas nickname. Instead of Shake-n-Bake, Magic Man and El Diablo.

David Hale said...

What's El Diablo?

I don't know. I think it's some kind of chicken or something.

Anonymous said...

Got to think Chapas is going to have a big day and get some carries? With King being out and Samuel returning kicks. Wear them down with Samuel and Chapas then bring Thomas in?

UGA69Dawg said...

We need to take a page out of Pittsburgs playbook and bring in the bus RS once we have them soften up. Grind them into dust.

NCDawg said...

At 65-2 at home, how much of an unfair advantage are Boise State's blue uniforms on a blue field? ESPN calls them indistinguishable.