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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tuesday Links (6/30)

Usually we get to this in the morning, but I had to meet with my accountant this morning to (finally) get my '08 taxes done. Good things came of the meeting, however, and now I'll be getting a nice check back from the government to help me fund all my recent adventures. Which brings me to my next topic...

I apologize for the lack of links posts the past few weeks. I've been doing a lot of traveling, as this is one of the rare times during the year in which I'm not at the mercy of the UGA athletics department when planning out my schedule.

I spent the past five days in the Virgin Islands, which was a fantastic trip. I should also give a tip o' the cap to all of you... Even that far away, I still saw at least a dozen different people wearing Georgia gear, and thanks to my buddy Tom, who lives down there, I wasn't even hanging out in a lot of touristy places. You folks really do get around.

While I'd like to tell you that you can expect a lot more action on the blog in the coming weeks, I'm not exactly settled down just yet. I'm heading back out of town for a 10-day trip out west this weekend, and I'm making this one a real vacation -- i.e. no working lunches, no checking email daily, no stories for the paper and (sadly) no updates on the blog. But ideally, I'll come back rested and ready for six months of non-stop blogging after that. In the meantime, be sure to check the blog roll on the right and you'll find links to plenty of good UGA coverage while I'm gone.

Also, a big apology to those of you who regularly read the Dawgs-Extra version of this blog (i.e. the one tied to the Columbus paper). Before I went out of town last week, I pre-posted a bunch of stories that were set to go up on the blog at various intervals while I was gone. For whatever reason, this worked perfectly over at the Macon version of the site, but did not for the Columbus one. In the future, if you don't see too many updates from me on one page, check the "About the Author" section to the right and you'll see a link to the alternate site. Again, sorry to leave you high and dry, and all stories are now posted.

One other bit of info... football interviews are scheduled for tomorrow, and I'll be (hopefully) chatting with Bryan Evans, Caleb King and Clint Boling. If you have some questions you'd like me to pose to them, send them to me via Twitter at @BulldogsBlog and I'll see what I can do about getting you a reply.

OK, at long last, some links...

-- UGA got yet another big commitment today, this one from tailback Ken Malcome. (NOTE: I hate linking to the AJC here because the story is simply a paraphrase of the stories done by Rivals and Scout. Since the AJC is free, however, that's where I'll send you, and you can link to the pay sites from there if you want the full story.)

-- Speaking of that, Cousin Walter longs for the days (and hopes there may be more ahead) of Michael Carvell's recruiting coverage at the AJC.

-- If you want more than the story, Scout has a bunch of good photos up of Malcome.

-- The Senator has some interesting feedback from Doc Saturday about an issue I've raised a few times this offseason -- the lack of proven quarterbacks in the SEC.

-- Battle Hymn Notes has a post about the overall lack of offensive experience around the conference.

-- Bleacher Report profiles Georgia's deep corps of linebackers.

-- Rex Robinson talked with incoming kicker Brandon Bogotay and has some info about his impending arrival.

-- T Kyle King has an interesting post up about Geogia's rivals and the best way to taunt them.

-- UGA finished 18th in the Director's Cup standings this season, down eight spots from a year ago.

-- Despite that drop, the Banner-Herald says that Georgia has shown significant progress in the first five years of the Damon Evans regime.

-- The AJC's Bill King has a good post about the sort of love-hate relationship fans have had with Loran Smith over the years.

-- The commitment Tennessee got from Eric Berry's 13-year-old brother is absurd, writes ESPN's Chris Low.

-- Big changes are coming in the front offices of the Pac-10 and Big East, and among the top priorities for both new commissioners might be some bowl re-alignments. Dave Curtis thinks the Cap One Bowl could soon be featuring a Big East team.

-- I missed the SEC basketball coaches teleconference while I was gone, but David Ching has the comments from Mark Fox up on his blog.

-- In my continuing efforts to provide publicity for the UGA riders, the Examiner has a story that two of the Dawgs' riders ended their seasons on a high note.

-- Good news for "Lost" fans... next season will feature one extra episode, and at this point, every little bit counts.

-- More rumors of returning cast members for the shows final season, including this one.

-- For years, I hoped they would make a sequel to "Goonies." Now it might happen, and I'm less than thrilled. The thought of watching some Disney Channel reject do a new version of the truffle shuffle in too painful to think about.

-- After hearing the news of Michael Jackson's death, one of the first topics of conversation among my friends was what would happen with all of his crazy animals. E! Online has the answers.

-- I was working for an ECHL hockey team in San Diego a few years back and ended up meeting the kid who played Mikey on the first season of "Saved by the Bell," who was now working as a referee in the league. I thought that was the strangest fate for a former cast member until I read this story following Michael Jackson's death.

-- And finally, synchronize your Swatches and get ready for a bulletproof tiger. Both "Parker Lewis Can't Lose" and "Eastbound and Down" arrived on DVD today.

Video Blog: Trinton Sturdivant

Georgia left tackle Trinton Sturdivant discusses his return from a severe knee injury and his health as he gets ready to start fall practice.

A Painful Reminder

Rennie Curran spent most of the early offseason reminding his teammates how important it was to avoid off-field problems this year. Dozens of teammates repeated a similar mantra.

But for all the talk, the axe still fell last month when defensive end Justin Houston and tight end Bruce Figgins were suspended for violations of team rules -- Houston for two games, Figgins for six.

Rather than lament the losses, however, Curran said he's tried to use the suspensions as a refresher course for the rest of the team. Even with all the reminders earlier this offseason, trouble still found its way into the locker room. The pressure to remain dedicated to the cause was turned up another notch.

"We know how hard we worked as a team this offseason, having mat drills and coming through the spring, having guys make awesome strides during this offseason," Curran said. "It's just disheartening to see somebody make a mistake when they know they have so much to lose. But at the same time you have to continue to motivate the guys and encourage them and continue to let them know that we're all in this together, that you've got to stay out of trouble and that you're not invisible to the public."

While the disappointment was significant, Curran said, the rest of the team has handled the situation as well as could be expected.

For one, other players are stepping up and volunteering to take on some of the load their suspended teammates leave behind.

"Houston's out because of some slight things that happened, and we have guys in our unit that have the capability to step up and make plays," defensive end Demarcus Dobbs said. "All I'm trying to do is just make up some of the slack, and just do as much as I can."

"I didn't need somebody to get suspended to know that I'm going to step up to the challenge," freshman tight end Orson Charles said. "I have my own mind-set from the get-go that I just want to make everybody better around me. I just want to win."

The suspensions were a challenge to the rest of the roster and a reminder of just how careful everyone needs to be, but they can't serve as a distraction from the task at hand.

"The player reaction was that we've got to keep moving on," offensive lineman Vince Vance said. "Things happen, but we've got to let those players that it's not the downfall of their careers. But we also have to keep everyone on the right track."

From the Mailbag: Blocking Backs

Before doing interviews with the team on Wednesday, I asked via Twitter if anyone had any questions for Joe Cox or Caleb King, whom I'd requested to talk to that day. I only got one question, and it was for King, who as it turned out, wasn't available to talk anyway. But, I don't give up quite that easily, so I tried to at least find something resembling a response.

Anyway, the question comes from @CrossfitDawg13, who writes: I'd love to hear how much Caleb thinks his pass blocking has improved over last year.

King wasn't around, but I did get to talk to Richard Samuel. He wasn't exactly excited about expanding on the virtues and weaknesses of his competition for the starting tailback job, but he was happy to tell me just how important blocking (and the other away-from-the-ball fundamentals) was going to be in deciding just who earned the job of primary ball-carrier in 2009.

"That's basically what Coach (Bryan McClendon) is looking for is someone who will still get the job done without the ball," Samuel said. "You need to run your routes, make the blocks, make the right reads – having those components is something essential that the coach is looking for to be the running back that gets the most touches."

A Ringing Endorsement

A few weeks ago, T Kyle King decided to make it his mission to get Erk Russell elected to the college football hall of fame. I'm happy to report I've recruited a new supporter for him by the name of Jeff Owens.

Owens talked to the media yesterday in the defensive team meeting room, which has an oversized poster of Russell hanging on the wall, complete with the bloody forehead. When discussing turning around the defense for this season, Owens referred to his favorite Georgia quote -- "Tradition never graduates" -- and pointed toward Russell's image.

Owens said he didn't know much about Russell beyond the basic history until he was at a friend's house for Easter dinner a few years ago. His friend's mom ended up popping in some old game footage of Russell on the sideline, and Owens was hooked.

"You get a feel for what he was all about and what he meant to the program," Owens said.

Owens said his current defensive coordinator Willie Martinez isn't the head-butting type, and said Joe Tereshinski is the most Erk-like coach on the staff today.

So, I asked, are you interested in doing some politicking to get Russell elected to the HoF?

"I will," Owens said. "He's a part of Georgia. He's a part of us. He brought the name Junyard Dawgs, so I'm all for it."

So there you have it, Kyle. I expect this will be the rough equivalent to Oprah endorsing Obama.

O Line Finally Taking Shape

If you follow me on Twitter, you got some of this information yesterday, just minutes after I spoke with Georgia left tackle Trinton Sturdivant. If you're not following me on Twitter... what are you waiting for?

Since Sturdivant first hurt his knee last August, Georgia's offensive line has been in flux. Seven different players started games on the line during the season, and since the Bulldogs' bowl game, three linemen have undergone surgery. Still, the strength projected to return in the fall is staggering, but the question has remained: What exactly will the line look like when Georgia takes the field against Oklahoma State to start the season?

While the ongoing answer throughout the offseason so far has been, "We don't have a clue," Sturdivant said the team is actually working on solidifying a starting five now.

"Right now we have a set lineup that we're going through at and we look really good," Sturdivant said. "We're just focusing on getting used to the player beside us because last year, everybody was mixed up, switching positions every week."

That lineup features Sturdivant back at left tackle where he starred as a freshman in 2007. He said he's 100 percent recovered from the severe knee injury he suffered in the second week of fall practice last year and says he injured knee actually feels stronger than the healthy one now. He has completed treatment and is a full go.

Next to Sturdivant is Vince Vance at left guard. Vance is also recovering from ACL surgery, but is getting closer to a complete recovery. Although Vance started the first six games of last season, he's never played with Sturdivant, and building that relationship has been a focus of the past few weeks of drills, Sturdivant said.

Ben Jones reprises his role as the team's center after grabbing the job as a true freshman last season. Jones underwent surgery this offseason, but is already back at full speed.

Cordy Glenn was Georgia's other true freshman starter on the offensive line last season, and while Sturdivant said Glenn prefers to work on the left side of the line -- and he has been practicing some at left tackle, too -- he's currently slotted as the right guard.

Clint Boling, last year's MVP of the line, is currently working at right tackle after holding down the job on the left side after Vance's injury midway through the year last season.

"We're just getting better with knowing each other, how our tendencies are on the field, on pass situations, run situations," Sturdivant said. "Right now, we're focusing on getting better with the lineup that we have now."

Of course, there are still a few other linemen with eyes on playing time. Josh Davis started four games last season but has undergone two shoulder surgeries this offseason and isn't a sure bet to be ready when the season starts in September.

Chris Davis played all of last season with a nagging and painful hip injury. He's been getting work at left guard and center this offseason, but Sturdivant said he still hasn't fully recovered from surgery to repair the hip injury and has been unavailable during a number of the team's drills. Whether Davis can recover completely in time to make a run at a starting job remains to be seen.

"We really don't know how he will pan out as far as the injury," Sturdivant said. "We know he's an excellent player, but we're just hoping he can get back his strength to where he was."

Justin Anderson found his place at right tackle midway through the 2008 season as well, but a foot injury limited him during the team's final three games. He still has a shot at the starting lineup in 2009, too, but for now he's been working behind Glenn at right guard.

Perhaps the most intriguing name still in the mix, however, is freshman Chris Burnette.

Burnette arrived on campus earlier this month but has already impressed his teammates with his physical skills.

"He's really quick, really fast, explosive," Sturdivant said. "He's not as strong as he wants to be right now in the weight room, but that will come. He's very explosive, has really good technique. He's going to be a really good player."

Beyond the physical tools, however, Burnette has picked up the playbook astoundingly fast. Burnette was nearly named valedictorian at Troup County High School and his academic accomplishments have been obvious on the playing field, Sturdivant said.

"He already knows all the calls and the plays and it's really amazing how fast he's caught on since he's only been here about three weeks," Sturdivant said. "But everything that we've put in front of him, he knows. We can call any call, and he just spits it out just like that. I know he had a 5.8 GPA in high school, and it's definitely transferring."

So, does Burnette really have a shot at significant playing time his freshman year? Considering the track record of offensive line coach Stacy Searels, Sturdivant thinks it's likely.

"With Coach Searels, I feel like anybody has a shot," he said. "And of course we have a lot of experienced players, and it may seem like he may not play, but if he gets on the field and puts those pads on and is showing great technique and blowing people off the ball, I don't see signs of him not playing."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Ready for Battle

When he was on the field last year, Rod Battle usually made an impact. The problem was, he couldn't stay on the field.

A neck injury sidelined him for three games and then lingered even after he returned to action. That was followed by a shoulder injury that required surgery in January. He missed all of spring practice. To call last season frustrating for Battle would be an understatement.

"That was the first time I had really gone through something like that," Battle said. "But you live and you learn that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and you can never be too in condition and you can always work a little bit harder."

With virtually everyone on the depth chart at defensive end recovering from injury and Justin Houston suspended for the first two games of the season, the Bulldogs' desperately need Battle to stay healthy this season. So far, so good.

"I'm feeling pretty good, doing pretty much everything," Battle said.

But whether he can stay that way remains to be seen, which makes simply being on the field priority No. 1 for the senior. Beyond that, he has a few other goals, but he's keeping those to himself.

"I have some goals that are kind of personal, but there's definitely some things I want to accomplish," he said.

While he's not talking specifics, it's safe to say the goals have been set pretty high. It's Battle's last season in Athens, and he wants it to be a memorable one.

"It's my senior year, my last time around, and I want to make it special," Battle said. "When we have reunions, I want to come back around and say this team accomplished something big."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Health, Opportunity Elude Dewberry

As frustrating as 2008 was for so many Bulldogs, few had more frustrating seasons than Darius Dewberry.

Fall camp began amid controversy. His season started with a suspension. His return was barely a blip on the radar and playing time was hard to find. When things finally began to click into place -- including a two-tackle, one-interception game against Vandy -- a shoulder injury cropped up and cost him the rest of the season.

After missing all of spring practice, Dewberry is finally feeling better and, while a healthy start to fall practice isn't a sure thing, he's hoping to make the most of his senior season.

"I'm doing pretty good," Dewberry said. "I think I'm pretty healthy right now. I'm still rehabbing my shoulder a little bit, but I think it's going pretty well. I'm definitely getting a lot stronger."

Dewberry is hoping that he'll be cleared to go at full speed when fall practice begins in August, but playing time may still be an issue.

After missing so much of last season, Dewberry was shuffled toward the bottom of the depth chart. With an influx of incoming freshmen at the position, a return to health of injured veterans like Marcus Washington and Akeem Hebron, the emergence last season of Akeem Dent and Darryl Gamble and the quick transition for Nick Williams after moving from safety, there's a crowd of Bulldogs hoping to crack the lineup at linebacker this fall.

The solution may be a position change for Dewberry, who has long been rumored as a candidate to play defensive end.

"Yeah, they've talked with me about it and I think I'll get some snaps there next season," Dewberry said.

During spring practice, both Gamble and Washington were used as stand-up rushers at defensive end, and while both are expected to get reps there in the fall, Dewberry's size and strength make him a natural fit at the position.

"There's not really that big of a transition from linebacker to d-end. They are really similar. I think I'll play both position next year like Marcus and Darryl."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fox Finds Perfect Fit

It took a bit longer than expected, but that's only because Mark Fox wasn't willing to settle. But now three months into his tenure -- and a full month into having a full staff -- he's sure the wait was worth it.

"We had a specific plan in place to end up with a staff like this, and I took my time with it because I wanted to get what I wanted," Fox said. "Now we have the pieces in place that I've very happy with."

Fox's three assistants all filled specific roles.

Kwanza Johnson came with Fox from Nevada. Johnson knows Fox well, as serves as the conduit between Fox and the rest of the team.

Philip Pearson served as Alabama's interim coach during the latter half of last season but found himself out of work after the Crimson Tide hired Anthony Grant as their new head coach. That was a bonus for Fox, who snagged Pearson soon after taking the job at Georgia. Pearson's ties to the SEC, where he has been a longtime assistant, were essential given Fox's limited recruiting experience in the area.

The staff was rounded out last month with the addition of former Virginia Tech assistant Stacy Palmore. Just as Pearson brought an exceptional resume of experience in the SEC, Palmore brings similar credentials from years in the ACC.

In all, the staff couldn't have turned out any better, Fox said.

"Kwanza has an advantage because he's been with me for three years," Fox said. "He knows how we function and what the finished product should look like. Philip and Stacy, with their recruiting connections in this part of the country, give us some instant credibility and ties. So I'm excited about the diversity of this group and the chemistry between the four of us."

There is one more position yet to be filled -- the role of director of basketball operations. But that job's all but spoken for already, and Fox had a special name in mind from the beginning.

"It won't be official until around when school starts, but Kent Davidson is a guy I've played for years ago," Fox said. "He'll join us officially in August."

Davidson worked with Fox early in his career before coaching in the NBA developmental league. He's currently the head coach of the Qatar national team.

ESPN Nabs Dawgs for 2 Night Games

From UGA Athletics...

The Sept. 12 Georgia-South Carolina football game in Athens and the Sept. 19 game between Georgia and Arkansas in Fayetteville will both be televised at night by ESPN and/or ESPN2.

The Georgia-South Carolina game will be televised by ESPN2 at 7:00 p.m. ET. The Georgia-Arkansas game will be on either ESPN or ESPN2 at 7:45 p.m. ET.

Georgia has a record of 25-24-1 on ESPN and a record of 15-3 on ESPN2.

The Bulldogs finished 10-3 last season, including a 24-12 win over #19 Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl.

The Go-To Guys

I have a buddy named Ken, whom I've known for a long time now. I think most groups of friends have a guy like Ken. He's the guy who makes things happen.

I met Ken in high school when he was on a movie date with a girl I was friends with. Across the street from the movie theater was a McDonalds. It was December, and the McDonalds was advertising a visit from Santa on one of those signs with the plastic letter cards you can change out whenever you want to advertise something new. Ken ran over to the sign in broad daylight and changed the notice from "Santa is Coming!" to "Satan is Coming!" It was the type of high-school delinquency that I found hilarious at the time.

Anyway, from that point on, Ken's primary goal when hanging out with us has been to make sure we're all having fun. He's the guy who makes things happen. If you don't want to wait in line at a crowded bar, he greases the bouncer with a bill larger than any of us have in our wallets. If you need a wing man to go talk to a girl, he'll be buying drinks for her less attractive friend before you've even thought of a good opening line. If you complain there's nothing to do, there's a good chance someone will need bail money by the end of the night. He's a good guy to have around.

I tell you all of this because Ken came to mind as I was reading through the responses to my post on Monday about Georgia's reliance on its stars last season. There have been a good number of people here and over at the Senator's blog both in favor and pretty stridently against the impact of Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno last year. Some think the pair was the best thing the team had going. Some people think they didn't get the job done. Ken reminds me that, perhaps, both theories are correct.

A bunch of us took a limo to go out in Philly for my birthday a few years back. Birthdays out on the town were a problem for me because people tended to buy me a lot of drinks and I have trouble turning down anything that's free. Needless to say, I was not at 100 percent.

When the limo dropped us off at my apartment late that night, we ran into a problem. In my diminished capacity, I had misplaced my keys. My roommate, who could have let us in, was nowhere to be found. He had either been distracted by a girl or stopped at Pat's for a cheesesteak. In any case, we were locked out.

So there we were, in the middle of January in chilly Delaware, a half-dozen guys, standing outside my apartment with no way in. As was usually the case, we put Ken in charge, and he remedied the problem. He broke down the door.

Twenty minutes later, we were sitting in my living room watching TV and enjoying some Hot Pockets when my roommate finally returned. He turned the handle on the front door and pushed in, and the door promptly fell onto the hardwood floor. He was less than thrilled.

Rather than yell at Ken though, my roommate was furious with me. At the time, I didn't get it. Ken broke down the door, after all. I had nothing to do with it. But it has since become clear to me what my roommate understood at the time: If we were always going to rely on Ken to make things happen, sometimes we had to shoulder the responsibility for the consequences of his actions.

Seems to me that's pretty much the same situation Georgia had last year. It wasn't about Stafford or Moreno failing to come through. It was about expecting a bit too much of both of them. It was about the other players on the team -- many of whom had the best of intentions -- simply assuming that, when the chips were down, they knew who they could count on. Most of the time, they were right. Sometimes though, their doors got kicked in.

I'm not sure this year will be different in terms of wins and losses, and I'm not inclined to think losing two players as talented as Stafford and Moreno helps a team, but I do think there's an advantage to having 11 guys on offense and 11 guys on defense who each realize that success depends as much on them as anyone else on the team.

Anyway, a few other thoughts on some of the comments I've read following that post...

-- Yes, the defense was suspect last season, but the offense simply did not show up throughout most of the Alabama game and all of the Florida game. Scoring was a problem against South Carolina, too, and the defense bailed Georgia out. So yes, the D needs some big improvements this season, but they weren't the ONLY problem.

-- Turd Ferguson and Richt Flair are both great commenter names.

-- I can't help but wonder what the opinion of Willie Martinez would be if he had followed someone who had a personality closer to his own rather than the fiery, ill-tempered Brian Van Gorder.

-- The "we're coming together as a team" talk is starting to get a little old, but it's the offseason, and that's about all we've got. Just be happy that you've gotten a lot of "teamwork" stories rather than stories about arrests and suspensions.

-- I'm glad a few people pointed out Mark Richt's minor jabs at the media's coverage. His quote in my post is no less than the third time I've heard or read something similar. Honestly, yes, if he's talking about ESPN, they did focus on Moreno and Stafford. But around here? I really don't think that was the case. In fact, I'd say I talked to Moreno and Stafford less than almost any other starters on the team because, quite frankly, they were two of the worst quotes. Then again, I doubt too many of the coaches or players are reading the Macon Telegraph.

-- I'd be willing to wager there isn't a player in recent history Georgia fans are more split on that Stafford. It's amazing... I never hear anyone say, "Yeah, he was a pretty solid QB, but just didn't put it all together for that Heisman-type season while he was here." People either love him or hate him. In truth, I think that comes from the fact that Stafford was pretty inconsistent throughout much of his career and fans tend to cherry pick the moments from his career that best prove their point.

--The coda to the story of Ken breaking down my door came the next day. After a greasy Sunday morning breakfast, we went to Home Depot buy a new door. I figured this was going to be a hassle because... well, who breaks down a door? As it turned out, apparently quite a few people. The door aisle was mobbed, and not with a bunch of 40-somethings finishing a honey-do list. There was at least a half-dozen college-aged guys there buying new doors. None of us said a word to each other, but there was a subtle, unspoken understanding of what had transpired.

Oh, and one final note: Ken is a South Carolina graduate, so really, we should have known better all along.

Burnette Excited, Not Intimidated

Chris Burnette knew what to expect even before he arrived at Georgia. In fact, that's what made him want to be a Bulldog so badly.

Burnette knew that offensive line coach Stacy Searels was a tough guy to play for, that he demanded a lot, and that freshmen weren't given any special treatment. They were thrown to the wolves, and they learned the hard way.

And yet, that's exactly what made playing at Georgia exciting. Freshmen were treated as equals, and while that meant a tough time on the practice field early on, it also meant he'd have a shot at playing as soon as he was ready.

"You really want to play as much as you can, and Coach Searels will put the best five guys on the field," Burnette said. "I'm all about competition, and I know that he won't say, 'Well, this guy's older so I'm going to play him.' He's going to put his best football players out there. I'm glad to have that kind of coach in charge of who's playing and who's not."

While Burnette figures to go through his share of hard times, he also isn't anticipating any earth-shattering changes from the way he's always prepared. In fact, his high school coach modeled their practices after what Searels did at Georgia. For Burnette, it will just be a faster pace for an old routine.

"I've been to a lot of their practices during the year, and they showed me that a lot of the stuff we do on our team is pretty similar," Burnette said. "It'll be turned up another level but I really think I've been prepared pretty well for it. The fact that Coach Searels does push his players pretty hard, I think helps in the long run as far as winning games and getting you ready to play on the next level on Sundays."

That doesn't mean Burnette isn't a little intimidated. This is the SEC, after all, and Searels is one of the country's top offensive line coaches. And while Burnette managed to avoid mat drills and the rigors of spring practice, he got some words of warning from early enrollee Dallas Lee that helped get him ready for what will soon be in store.

"Pretty much when I had one of my visits, he was telling me to take the time you have no to make sure you're in shape," Burnette said. "He said when he got there, he wasn't really prepared for that, so I'm just glad I could get some advice from the guys who did come early like I was planning to do originally."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pass the Mike

If two's company and three's a crowd, Georgia's got a veritable convention at middle linebacker in 2009.

Despite the loss of senior Dannell Ellerbe, the Bulldogs still have a wealth of talent looking for playing time alongside junior Rennie Curran this season, and at this point, it's anyone's guess how the playing time will be distributed.

Following spring practice, the leader in the clubhouse seems to be junior Akeem Dent, who played primarily at Sam linebacker last season, but impressed coaches so much with his consistency that he was pegged as the likely starter in the middle this spring.

"This spring I've been mainly focusing on Mike and just learning, trying to learn everything there is to know about Mike," Dent said. "As long as I get to play, I feel pretty good about it. At Mike you get a lot more action, so yeah, I'd like to play Mike."

If Dent has the inside track on starting duties, that leaves a battle royal for the remaining snaps.

Darryl Gamble was impressive as the substitute for Ellerbe last season, putting up several big games including a two-interception performance against LSU. But while Gamble has made a habit of making big plays in his career, he has yet to show the consistency that has endeared Dent to his coaches.

During the spring, Gamble saw limited action at Mike, working mostly at Sam and also handling rush duties at defensive end -- a role he's likely to continue in the fall. With so many teams running spread offenses, Georgia is running a nickel package on defense regularly, leaving the Sam linebacker off the field. But with limited depth at defensive end, head coach Mark Richt sees an obvious solution.

"The more that people spread the less that you're going to play the Sam linebacker," Richt said. "We've got to get those Sam linebackers working."

That means Gamble could see as much action as a rusher in 2009 as he does at linebacker. The same could be true for middle linebacker Marcus Washington, who worked as a stand-up rusher this spring, too.

Washington is likely to see a good bit of action at Mike, too, but further down the depth chart, sophomore Marcus Dowtin has forced himself into the discussion as well. Dowtin showed glimpses of his immense promise as a freshman in 2008, and he got the majority of the spring reps at Mike while Gamble was working elsewhere.

"Dowtin needs a little more reps right now, so he's getting them. Darryl's a guy who can play any one of the three with his knowledge and his ability," Richt said. "These guys are getting to the point now where they really know what they're doing, so it's wise to just start training them in other spots. Darryl's not going to forget how to play Mike."

And that's the idea. With so many linebackers and so few snaps to go around, the best bet for everyone is to be prepared to play almost anywhere. When game day comes around, Georgia's middle linebackers will be ready, and ideally, the opposition won't know what hit them.

"I feel like it's good for us to crosstrain at linebacker because for one, it gives us depth," Dent said. "We can play any position at any given time during the season."

Moore Than Meets the Eye

Georgia's wide receiver corps will have a much different look in 2009 than it did a year ago. But while the group is short on experience, there's still plenty of talent. The elder statesman of the group, senior Michael Moore, gives his thoughts on what his fellow pass-catchers can bring to the table this season....

On whether A.J. Green can handle all the attention from defenders this year...
"He was double teamed all season. Every team we played, we were watching film on them, but by the time we got to the game, they had a whole different coverage, and a lot of that was because of A.J."

On what tight end Orson Charles brings to the table...
"He's a high motor guy. He always wants to know what to do. He wants to learn more, he runs well, he catches the ball well. I think he's a better fit for tight end only because it will give him a better advantage. You can flex him out and he's going to beat up a DB, but he's better suited for tight end. He looks good."

On whether Marlon Brown can repeat what A.J. Green did last year...
"I think that's putting too much pressure on anybody to say they can come in and do what A.J. did. A.J. came in and had one of the best things the SEC's ever seen. He's just an extremely talented kid, and you can't expect those to come around too often. It's just like Knowshon. You can't expect a kid to come in and replace Knowshon. You can expect Marlon to be Marlon."

On who freshman Rantavious Wooten reminds him of....
"He's kind of a more polished Mikey Henderson. Mikey only played receiver for two years, while Wooten's been playing receiver his whole life. He's fast. He's probably the same speed as Mikey, and Mikey was probably the fastest player on the team at the time."

On the development of Israel Troupe...
"Troupe was a lot like I was my sophomore year. He got some game experience. He had a few catches. Now he's going to have an opportunity just like everybody else to get in the weight room, get in the film room, out there in pass skel and just wait for his turn. That's what I had to do. But there's going to be an opportunity for him, and he's got to be ready for it."

On the role cornerback Branden Smith might be able to play on offense...
"He's fast, and if you're fast and you have the ball in your hands, you can get away from people. When game time comes around, I think we'll be able to see him out there."

And finally, what he's expecting from himself as Georgia's No. 2 threat...
"A.J.'s going to get double-teamed, and if I have one-on-one matchups, I like my chances."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Richt: No Stars in 2009

The focus of Georgia's offseason has largely been the loss of Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno. Mark Richt, however, thinks the bigger obstacle was all the focus on Georgia's two superstars last season.

So as the Bulldogs move into the third week of voluntary summer workouts, Richt said there's a distinctly different mentality among the players without Stafford and Moreno aboard.

"They've really decided that they have to come together as a team and work their tail off and get after it," Richt said. "You can't sit there and rely on a Stafford or a Moreno to carry the team."

The departure of Stafford and Moreno -- both of whom were selected in the first round of the NFL draft -- along with receiver Mohamed Massaquoi means there aren't a lot of known quantities on offense for Georgia in 2009, but a healthy offensive line could make that a moot point.

While Richt says there was clearly too much focus on the team's offensive stars last season, in some cases there weren't many other options. With an offensive line littered with fill-ins learning on the fly, the offense was often forced to go with what worked. There weren't many chances to improvise.

When the protection broke down, Stafford relied on the receivers he trusted most. With the second-string tailbacks struggling in pass protection, Richt was forced to keep Moreno in the game nearly all the time down the stretch.

With a healthy and deep corps of linemen, this year, things should be different.

"I really believe that if the offensive line matures the way we expect it to, we won't need as many heroics," Richt said.

But the pressure won't just be on the offensive line this season, and the new focus must extend beyond the offense. This year, Richt said, things will be different everywhere from the players on the field to the fans in the stands to the stories in the newspaper.

"Last year was one of the toughest years because the Bulldogs fans and the media were focused on those two guys," Richt said. "But this year everybody understands that that's what it's going to take to be successful. The star of the team is the team."

Monday Links (6/22)

Hope everyone had a great weekend. I spent a majority of my Sunday watching two doses of AMC's Bill Murray movie marathon, so it was a pretty successful day. Although, upon further thought, I have to put "Ghostbusters 2" up there among the most absurd movie plots ever, alongside "Weekend at Bernie's 2" and "Roadhouse." I don't know what it says about me that I really enjoy all three.

Anyway, some links...

-- In case you didn't pick up the Telegraph over the weekend (or take the hints on the blog), be sure to check out Doug Stutsman's piece on Demarcus Dobbs' plans for improving his pass rush and my father's day story on Georgia's family man, Marcus Washington, who maintains a part time job on top of his class and football schedule in order to provide for his wife and two children.

-- My post earlier this morning was all about Georgia's desire to get some revenge on Georgia Tech. T Kyle King thinks that's likely to happen.

-- Katharyn Richt is preparing to go back to school to get her nursing degree.

-- The Florida Times-Union has a story on Georgia's recent and "rare" success in recruiting the Jacksonville area.

-- While I spent some time last week taking shots at Bleacher Report's credibility, it's tough to argue with its list of the five Bulldogs with the most to prove in 2009.

-- Cousin Walter gets some good karma for sticking up for two guys few Bulldogs fans would stick up for.

-- Rex Robinson has a good story about a great movie.

-- Fans in Northwest Georgia will get their shot at seeing Mike Bobo this week.

-- Get the Picture picks up on some interesting research done on potential bias in the coaches' poll. Obviously I've never done the math on this, but the findings aren't surprising to me. The coaches' poll is always bias toward teams with the broadest appeal because, quite simply, those are the teams the coaches know the most about. Even Mark Richt, in trying to defend his own vote last month, said he was well informed because, when he couldn't sleep at night after a game, he'd watch highlights of other teams. OK, well I'm sure I'm not alone in noticing "SportsCenter" plays favorites with highlights, and Boise State and Air Force aren't exactly media darlings.

-- The Newnan Times-Herald talks with Georgia softballer Lisaira Daniels, who is still walking on air after her trip to the College World Series.

-- This is from way back on Friday, but Doc Saturday has some interesting thoughts on all those teams (like Florida) that don't exactly endorse tough non-conference scheduling.

-- I saw a headline on the other day that asked if feminism was outdated. About an hour later, a buddy forwarded me the link to this Web site. Sometimes life's just funny like that.

-- Bill Lawrence has an update on the future of "Scrubs," and it's a pretty shocking twist.

-- Kelly Kapowski appears to be the missing link in a full-scale "Saved by the Bell" reunion, and as punishment, they found the worst possible photo of her to go with this story.

-- And finally, people much funnier than I have taken my idea for the paint-by-numbers plan for creating TV shows and run with it. Their show has merit, but here are a few ideas I might have gone with instead: Bronson Pinchot as a psychic bartender who can predict what shots you're about to order called "The Mixologist." CBS presents a show about a crime-solving eye doctor who can relive the final moments of a victim's life by performing Lasik surgery on their corpse. Matt LeBlanc is... "The Optimologist." Or Jon Fabris stars as a quirky, tough-as-nails special teams coach who defies convention and helps strong-legged kickers miraculously boot kickoffs out of bounds. Don't miss a minute of the action in... "The Directionalist."

Georgia (Tech) On My Mind

No one wants to say it was more important than any other game. In fact, as far as the standings were concerned, it was less significant. But darned if Georgia's players aren't reminded about that loss to Georgia Tech nearly every day.

"I have a lot of friends who go to Tech, and I'v heard it, but I don't really pay attention to it," offensive lineman Vince Vance said.

"It was very hard at the time and it's still tough to get over now," said defensive end Rod Battle. "I've got an uncle that likes Georgia Tech, and I'd like to shut him up a little bit."

The 45-42 loss to the Yellow Jackets was a first for Bulldogs' head coach Mark Richt, and the defeat stung for a myriad of reasons.

The defense was abysmal in a disastrous third quarter. Big plays abounded for the Yellow Jackets. The Bulldogs blew a big lead on their home field. Tech celebrated by tearing limbs from the famed hedges surrounding Sanford Stadium's field. It was an embarrassment, and one that the players are reminded of often.

And yet, the coaches of both teams aren't fueling the fire.

Before the season, Tech coach Paul Johnson listed beating his in-state rival as a top priority. Now he's backed away from that claim.

"Our players circled that game," he said.

At Bulldog Club meetings, Tech has been as big a topic of consternation as the annually reviled Florida Gators, but Mark Richt isn't acting as if it's any different.

"Our fans have never gotten to the point in my opinion where that games wasn't real meaningful," he said.

Even the future of the rivalry has been downplayed a bit. Richt said things have always been intense between the two schools, no more so now. He even pointed out that, due to their divergent styles of offense, last year's loss won't have much impact on recruiting since the two schools rarely go head-to-head for the same recruits.

Johnson gives the win a bit more significance, but he said it meant more to the fans that it did the team.

"It's the in-state rival, the two biggest schools in the state. It's an important game, and we approach it that way," Johnson said. "It was more important to the fans and the alumni than anything else. We hope we're going to be here for a while, and hopefully that won't be the last time."

But for all the sugar coating, the bottom line remains the same: This offseason has come with a heaping helping of gloating by those in-state rivals, and that's a dose of reality the Bulldogs haven't felt in a long time. So while they may want to downplay the desire for revenge, they're not ignoring it.

"I wouldn't even say it's in the back of my mind," Vance said. "It's there. We ain't forgot."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Deleted Scenes: Marcus Washington

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there. I hope you've gotten a chance to enjoy your weekend, and ideally a few of you made it out to the All Pro Dad event in Athens yesterday. Bernie's Dawg Blawg has some pictures from his trip with the fam.

If you haven't perused the newspaper today, I urge you to check out my story on Georgia's family man, Marcus Washington.

Marcus' first son came along when he was still a senior in high school. Both he and his wife, Selecia, had bigger plans for their lives. A kid wasn't supposed to be in the cards. In so many situations like that, the story ends badly. Marcus and Selecia defied the odds.

For any of you who are fathers, I have no doubt you'll have a profound appreciation for all Marcus has done to be a good dad while keeping the rest of his life in order, too. For those of you who aren't, it should give you a good reason to give your dad a call and thank him for all he's done for you.

And while we're on the subject of thank yous, I owe some big ones to Marcus and Selecia for giving up so much of their time for this story. I also want to thank John Jancek, who was on vacation last week but still took the time to talk to me for the story. (Of course, technically I was on vacation, too.)

Anyway, you can read the piece HERE, and after that, here are a bunch of quotes that I got from the principles involved but wasn't able to squeeze into the story...

Marcus Washington on balancing football and family life...
"It gets rough sometimes because it's always a clash with time. Going to school, going to football practice and I've got a part time job – taking all those things into perspective and then coming home and spending time with your family, it's a lot to balance. It's rough, but you just have to keep your priorities straight."

Marcus on why he decided to get married...

"We had been dating since sophomore year in high school. We'd been together for forever it seems. We had our first child when we were in high school. We had been through a lot of stuff together – a lot of ups, a lot of downs – and I just knew she was the one. And if not now, then when? So we went ahead and tied the not, and I'm just trying to do things the right way by my son and by her."

Marcus on his first reactions to learning he was going to have a child...

"I didn't know what was going to go on with my future at that point. When I found out she was pregnant, it was before I had committed to play here. I wasn't sure whether that was going to cost me my scholarship or what. But I told the coaches about it and they said as long as you and her are on good terms and you do right by your son, because for a child, especially a little boy, there's nothing like a father. They supported me, my parents supported me. It was a tough time, especially financially because kids aren't cheap. I really relied a lot on my mom and dad and her parents when we were in high school. Whenever we needed something like diapers or clothes for them, they really kicked in a lot. Now that I'm in college, I've really wanted to take that into my own hands because it's my child, not theirs. So I got my job so whenever he needs something, his dad can get it for him. We don't have to call grandma or granddad."

Marcus on the family environment at Georgia...

"The kids get along great with all the guys. Marcus Jr. calls all the guys on the team 'Uncle.' It's Uncle Rennie or Uncle Knowshon or Uncle Byrd. The coaches' sons, he runs around and plays with them all the time. It's really his own little circle of friends. Just seeing the other coaches with their kids, I was like, OK, this is how I want to do it. I want to take care of my kids like this."

Marcus on living the life of a family man on a college campus...

"Sometimes they say, 'Come on and hang out with the boys.' And I say, 'I can't. I've got to go home and hang out with little Marcus and Samira and the family.' And they understand. They know what I go through. And sometimes they'll come over to the house and I'll put some food on the grill and we'll all chill out with the kids. And if their family's around, they'll bring their family over to the house, too, and we'll have a good time. We just have to find some nice family fun instead of going downtown or things like that."

Marcus on how family has helped him as a football player...
"It makes you realize that you have to be responsible for your actions. Everybody has an assignment, and that's your responsibility. You either did it or you didn't, and there's no excuse. That's the way it is with your kids. You either fed him or you didn't. He's either got clothes or he doesn't. There's no excuses, and that's the way it is on the field and off it. There's no excuses for how you live your life."

Marcus on overcoming the obstacles of being a teenaged parent...
"I never have been the guy to say I told you so. I never really asked to be a role model. I was kind of thrust into that position. But regardless, I try to do the right thing by my family and by my kids. When I hear guys saying they look up to me in a positive fashion, it does make me feel good, but it just solidifies that I'm doing things in the proper manner."

Marcus on how the other players respond to his kids...
"They always come up to me and say if I ever want to go out and do anything, they'll babysit the kids. I get that from just about every guy on the team. It's real nice knowing that I have that support system with all my teammates and that they really do enjoy being around the kids. Every time I come over they always ask where the kids are or where's the wife. They really enjoy hanging out with them and my kids enjoy hanging out with the fellas as well. It's a big old playground over there for them. They go over there and get to run around and there's so many people to play with and so many things to do."

Selecia Washington on her feelings upon learning she was pregnant in high school...
"We both had the same worry because we were both going to college. We were thinking that having a kid at this point in our lives was not the right time. Once we told our parents and we got their support from them, we kind of figured out then that it wasn't going to get in the way of our dreams and what we wanted to do, we got a little more confident about it."

Selecia on handling the criticisms of people at her high school...

"Our teachers didn't agree with it and thought we were being bad role models for our classmates. They actually wrote in the school newspaper about us being bad role models. We felt we were doing the right thing. Whether or not they agreed, that was their problem. We knew we were going to make it."

Selecia on what makes Marcus able to handle so many responsibilities...
"Marcus is very grounded. He doesn't let things get to him. He has a strong value about things and when he sets his mind to do something, he's going to do it. Marcus hates to fail, and he feels like if he doesn't keep things centered, then he's failing. He wants to make sure that we have what we need."

Selecia on having her second child, Samira...

"We were a whole lot better prepared. We were more grounded and had our minds set right. We weren't as young, we weren't in high school and we weren't depending on our parents anymore."

Selecia on the help their family has gotten from Marcus' teammates...
"It made it a whole lot easier. When we first moved here and we were both in school, most of the football players were offering to keep our son around our schedule, making sure someone was available to keep him."

Selecia on whether she is surprised that Marcus has accomplished so much...
"I've always thought that Marcus could excel at whatever he wanted. We've known each other since the fifth grade, so I know him like the back of my hand. Sometimes he surprises me, but I pretty much know what he's capable of doing."

Selecia on what she's learned from raising a family at such a young age...

"I learned that people are going to talk, but you can't let that get to you. Keep the goals in sight that you had before. You don't have to stop your life when you have kids. You can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it as long as you support each other."

Jeff Owens on Marcus' family involvement...

"He always brings his family to practice and workouts. His family is always around here with us. Just like the coaches have their families around, he has his family here."

Owens on Marcus' personality...

"The way he handles his business, he's a quiet guy, but he handles his responsibilities and his family is his No. 1 priority. He's very mature. I think he has his family to support him and he knows that we're here to support him."

Rennie Curran on Marcus' leadership...
"Since I came in, he's not only helped me with football, but off the field with family issues and things like that, I've been able to relate to him and look to him whenever I've had concerns."

Curran on having Marcus' kids around...
"It's cool. We all love his son and his daughter. They're like our kids when they come around. It's an awesome sight to see everything he's accomplished here and what he's going to be able to accomplish and how he can affect his family by what he does here."

John Jancek on what allows Marcus to balance family and football...
"I just think that he has a tremendous amount of respect for his responsibilities as a father and a husband, and I think he takes it seriously. It's not something he views as a burden. He's really passionate, he loves his family. And when you're passionate and you have those types of qualities, it makes it possible for you to balance the two."

Jancek on his feelings toward Marcus...
"Marcus has a responsibility to his family and he also has a responsibility to football. He's done a great job of balancing those two and keeping a great perspective on both, and I'm real proud of him and the direction he's taken. It's been extremely rewarding to me to see him do such a great job as a father and a husband and also as a football player."