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Friday, February 26, 2010

New Staff Brings Many Changes

Nothing is etched in stone, and that’s the first message head coach Mark Richt has preached to his team about this spring. There will be a lot of changes, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, but that was to be expected when three new coaches were brought in. They key, Richt said, is patience.

“One of the things we want the players to understand is they shouldn’t get too worked up about the depth chart – really on either side of the ball, but a little bit more defensively,” Richt said. “Our new coaches are still learning those guys, and there’ll probably be some moving around just to get the right fit.”

Of course, the moving around has already begun in earnest. Georgia’s new defensive coaches met with each player and let them know what their roles this spring would be – and that means changes up and down the roster.

Justin Houston, Montez Robinson and Cornelius Washington all played defensive end last year. They’ll all be at outside linebacker this spring, along with converted tailback Richard Samuel, new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.

DeAngelo Tyson and Kwame Geathers will man the newly created nose position, while Abry Jones, Brandon Wood and Kiante Tripp – all defensive tackles in 2009 – will be playing defensive end this season. Demarcus Dobbs, a starter at end last year, will remain at the position, too, though Grantham said the linemen will all cross-train between end and nose.

Nick Williams is moving from linebacker to safety, Sanders Commings is going from corner to safety, and the corners, Richt said, will be adjusting to new roles, too, working less in run support, which could further shake up the look of the defense.

“The biggest thing is Coach Grantham has a vision for what this defense is going to look like, what the body types are at each position,” Richt said. “So he and (the other coaches) have looked at the film and Todd has been describing what he’s looking for in each spot and just fit what they see to the position that he envisions.”

So far, there has been a lot of film study, and once spring practice starts Thursday, Grantham hopes to get a much better feel of how players are adapting to their new roles. The new staff has a little more than a month to get players comfortable and make sure they’re ready to keep the momentum rolling into the summer, when coaches are barred from working directly with the team.

“It’s critical you define the role for each player, so when they leave in the summer, here’s what you can do to improve yourself, what you can work on,” Grantham said. “That way when we come back, everybody’s got an understanding.”

Still, that doesn’t mean that a player at safety this week won’t be at linebacker by the fall. A lot remains undecided, and Grantham said his goal will be to have players prepared for whatever the future might hold.

“There will be change, because we want to see what guys can do at more than one position,” Grantham said. “It’ll be changing as we get going, and sometimes it’s a change just to see what he can do at another spot and to create some depth. It’s nothing more than trying to find out what we have at each position and what we need to work on as we look forward to the first game.”

It’s not just Georgia’s players getting used to all the changes around the football offices. Richt said he has done his best to soak in some new ideas that Grantham and fellow first-year assistants Scott Lakatos and Warren Belin have brought to the table, too.

“It’s a healthy exchange of ideas,” Richt said. “A lot of times you spend a lot of money to fly around to different schools to get details of what’s going on, but how much can you get in a one- or two-day period compared to a guy just being there, living there.”

Richt has already decided to implement two suggestions of his new staff.

First, he’ll be going back to a Monday through Thursday practice schedule, with walk-throughs on Fridays. Last season he had the team practice on Sunday and gave the players Monday off, but he’s since reconsidered the plan in light of some input from his new assistants.

Grantham also suggested revamping the daily meeting schedules, so rather than open with special teams work, Richt will address the entire team first, then break off into special teams and segment meetings. Richt said it’s a schedule used in the NFL and makes organizing meetings much simpler.

One thing that hasn’t been discussed yet is the strength and conditioning program, Richt said.

“Our strength and conditioning staff does a great job,” Richt said. “We’ll be open to any ideas for anything, but that has not come up at this point.”

Of course, Richt doesn’t see much need for improvement in that area, he said, adding that the staff has awarded more grades of ‘A’ during mat drills – the grueling offseason conditioning program held each winter – than he has during any other season since he arrived at Georgia, despite upping the requirements a bit.

“We’ve gone longer on the mat than we ever have at Georgia,” Richt said. “We’ve added a little time to it. Just don’t tell the players.”

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