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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lessons Learned: The Real Impact of G-Day

Yesterday I wrote that a post essentially asking any fans who wanted to consider themselves rational to take a big step back and remember that G-Day offers little in terms of definitive answers about what might be in store this spring.

My aim certainly wasn't to marginalize your appreciation of G-Day, but rather to simply offer a reminder that life in September will be a good bit different than it was last Saturday.

But never let it be said that I simply paint with a broad brush, offering little to you fine readers beyond a blanket statement that I have nothing to offer. So, with that, here are a few things I think we can take away from G-Day…

1.) There is more than one QB battling for the starting job.

In my post yesterday, I may have gone a bit too far in defending Aaron Murray and negating the fine performance of Zach Mettenberger. That was not intentional, but rather a reaction to the overzealous enthusiasm that accompanied Mett's big day.

A fair number of people seem to have interpreted that as me making excuses for Murray. Not true. I assure you, I don't have a horse in this race. On a personal level, I genuinely like Aaron, Zach and Logan Gray. All three have been generous with their time, honest in their answers and personable during our interactions. I have no reason to favor one over another.

What I have said -- and I've said this because I was asked, and it's my job to provide all the information I can -- is that I believe Murray to be the favorite in the QB race. This is for numerous reasons, from his high school pedigree to his physical tools to his more refined mechanics to his reportedly impressive work ethic to off-the-record discussions I've had with people close to the program to the simple fact that Murray won't be suspended for the start of the season.

I still feel comfortable in saying that Murray was and likely still is the favorite. But I feel no obligation to continue beating that drum to defend that statement if it becomes obvious it's no longer true. I wrote that Murray was the favorite for the job, and I believe he was. But if Gray or Mettenberger's name is atop the depth chart when it finally is released, I'll be 100 percent fine with that. In fact, it'd make for a better story.

And what I think we really did learn from G-Day is that Murray isn't a shoo-in for the gig.

Gray performed admirably, as he did in the previous scrimmage as well. You might also read something into the fact that he took all the first-half reps with the No. 1 offense. And as I wrote yesterday, the style of play didn't exactly allow for Gray to really exhibit his strengths. He's mobile and athletic, which is a secondary concern in a scrimmage in which the QBs aren't allowed to be tackled.

(Note: I also asked Murray why the snaps were divided as they were -- with Mett only working with the No. 2 unit. He didn't provide the rationale, but he did tell me that was the plan from the coaches going into Saturday's scrimmage.)

And Mettenberger obviously proved that his off-field problems weren't going to affect his on-field performance. He was impressive all spring, and that's particularly encouraging given these stat lines:

0-of-3 for 0 yards and 1 INT
1-of-5 for 39 yards
1-of-10 for 4 yards and 1 INT

Those were Mett's performances last spring. It doesn't get much uglier than that. And yet here he was last Saturday making some brilliant throws -- with the one to Rantavious Wooten along the sideline really standing out. He's taken huge strides, which is a credit to Mett, to Mike Bobo and to the other two QBs who have continued to push him.

So here's the point: It's silly to let G-Day completely change your perspective on Mettenberger or Murray, but it's very good to know that regardless of who ends up being the starter in September, he won the job because he beat out strong competition, rather than being handed the role by default.

Oh, and one more thing on the QBs: The one play that will probably be most remembered this spring is Murray's awful interception right into the chest of linebacker Marcus Dowtin. Make no mistake, it was a brutal throw.

But that was the only interception of the game by any of the three quarterbacks, and for the spring, only five picks were thrown -- two of which came in Hail Mary situations, according to Richt.

With a first-year starter guaranteed to be under center in the fall, a few mistakes are bound to happen no matter who the QB is, but last fall we were talking endlessly about numerous INTs thrown in each scrimmage, and this spring, protecting the football appeared to be a job well done across the board.

2.) The OLBs may need some work.

On the plus side, Justin Houston and Cornelius Washington looked superb as pass rushers, finishing with a combined nine tackles and three sacks against the first-team offense -- and that was with Todd Grantham calling for nothing but the most vanilla of defensive schemes. If the serious blitz packages were in play -- who knows how good they might have looked?

But while the pass rush looks to be in good hands with Houston and Washington, the depth at the position is still a big question mark, and all of the LBs probably need to work a bit on their coverage skills.

The tight ends -- who would typically be the responsibility of one of the LBs in coverage -- had six receptions for 125 yards on G-Day, and Orson Charles probably should have had at least one more for big yardage. They were open a lot, and regardless of how vanilla your scheme is, Derek Rich shouldn't be sprinting down the field alone.

But I talked with Houston about this during the spring and he said this was probably the biggest area of concern because it's the biggest change in terms of roles for the OLBs from what they did at defensive end in the past. So it's going to take some getting used to, and that's what this summer and fall camp will be all about.

3.) Washaun Ealey don't take no $h*t from nobody...

… and neither does Todd Grantham.

On what was by all accounts a pretty bland G-Day, the minor tussle between Washaun Ealeyand Nick Williams toward the end of the game was one of the few points of relative excitement.

Given Ealey's history (i.e. the Florida game last year), you might understand why he was a bit anxious to respond after any perceived on-field injustice.

And given the critiques of Williams' play in the Florida game last year -- when he was accused of a blatant late hit on Tim Tebow -- it may not be impossible to believe he was the aggressor here. It certainly appeared he held Ealey down a bit too long after a tackle, and considering Ealey was already dinged up with a minor knee injury, he may have understandably taken exception.

But two things…

There's no need to throw a punch in that situation, and I seriously hope Mark Richt or Bryan McClendon has sat Ealey down and told him that can't happen in front of the fans and, more specifically, in a real game situation. If that had been on a Saturday in the fall and the punch had been thrown at an opposing player from Florida or Tennessee or Arkansas, Georgia's talented tailback likely would have been facing a suspension.

The other thing I took from that incident was Grantham's reaction. He was hot -- not angry at Ealey, but angry at Williams. I was on the field for the entire incident and he gave Williams an earful, then blasted some of the other defenders for allowing a nine-yard run. It was by far the most obvious display of what Mark Richt called Grantham's "enthusiasm" on the field.

Two minutes later, the game was over and the Grantham-coached Black team had won the day. And with the intensity of his rant still fresh in my mind at least, he went over to each player on his team and congratulated them on a job well done -- including a special pat on the back for Williams.

I'm not sure if it means much of anything really, but it was probably the best indication we've had so far of how Grantham views his role as coach. In the NFL, the approach is different. But Grantham handled the situation every bit as you'd expect a college coach to do it: Scare the heck out of the guys who messed up, then pat them on the back the first chance you get to congratulate them on something else.

4.) Kris Durham is healthy

This is another case of controlling your optimism a bit, but it's probably OK to see the glass as a bit more than half full in Kris Durham's case.

Durham has never had more than 13 receptions in a season, and the last pass he caught came from Matthew Stafford in the Capital One Bowl two years ago. So anyone who is expecting Durham to blossom into a superstar or even to dethrone Tavarres King from his nominal role as starter might be setting the bar a bit too high.

But what G-Day did show us is that Durham can be a valuable weapon when healthy, and he appears to be healthy for the first time in a while. He had three catches for 54 yards in the game -- the most of any receiver -- and hauled in the lone touchdown for the No. 1 offensive unit. He even took a good hit to his surgically repaired shoulder and came right back into the game.

That's particularly good news because, while the success of Georgia's passing game is likely to rely more on the continued improvement of King and Wooten and Marlon Brown, it's crucial that Durham can step into the role occupied by Michael Moore last season -- a solid performer, a senior leader, a guy who can line up at any of the receiver positions and a consistent target in the red zone. Saturday, Durham looked like he was up for the job.

A year ago, Moore had 25 receptions for 249 yards and five touchdowns. If Durham can replicate that -- and maybe add a few more catches to the tally -- that will be a very good sign for a passing attack that is big on talent but short on seniority.

5.) Georgia can play an organized football game.

Those were SEC refs on the field Saturday, and while I'm fairly certain they didn't blow their whistle and toss a flag at each opportunity, it should be noted that the two teams combined for just one penalty -- an offsides call on Reuben Faloughi.

Given the emphasis Richt & Co. have put on reducing the flags this spring, that's a very good sign. And given that a scrimmage like that means walk-ons and rarely used backups are playing significant minutes, the coaches are split up on different sides of the field, and the scrimmage marked the first time players had to perform in front of fans this spring -- it's virtually a miracle that there weren't more screw-ups.

It's definitely too early to say the penalty problem is behind them, but it was good to get a genuine example of how flawlessly the fundamentals can be executed when it's made a priority.

6.) No one got (seriously) hurt.

It sounds trite, but this is probably the most important information that can come from any practice. As much as fans were looking for improvement or an idea of who the QB would be or a glimpse of the new 3-4 defense -- nothing mattered more than ensuring the Bulldogs would have their full stable of players when fall camp opened.

Josh Davis suffered a shoulder bruise, as did Cornelius Washington -- but both injuries are considered minor, and neither are expected to miss any significant time. Caleb King,Richard Samuel and Israel Troupe all sat out of G-Day, but they'll be back soon, too. And even the guys we haven't seen in a long, long time -- Trinton Sturdivant, Bean Anderson,Fred Munzenmaier, Tanner Strickland, Austin Long -- they're all on schedule to be full participants in fall camp.

Given the luck Georgia has had with injuries the last few years, that's huge news -- and perhaps the most important thing to take from this spring.


fuelk2 said...

I thought the Grantham rant on Nick Williams (and the subsequent understanding of his praise of Williams) was just what we need.

You could tell Williams was very upset about being ordered out of the huddle, and he won't forget that message. But hopefully the subsequent praise will keep him from getting down on himself.

As far as Ealey goes, I'll say what many of us were thinking. He probably didn't get his eyes gouged because of his excellent running; there was more to it than that. Someone needs to get to him to clean up his attitude on the field. I'm a huge fan of his, but we really can't have that sort of thing. It's especially embarrassing in an intra-squad scrimmage.

DawgOnTap said...

#6 is huge. With all the restrictions, you just can't tell a ton from these public scrimmages.

Now comes the dry season...especially with the baseball team not doing well. Gonna be a long summer. Be nice if these guys could stay out of trouble. That'll be as big as #6.

Anonymous said...

Embarrassing in an intra-squad scrimmage??

It happens all the time in intra-squad because they are playing the same people and listening to the same smack talk. I would rather it happen during a scrimmage than in a game.

David Hale said...

Agreed... it does happen in practice often, and that's no big deal. But when the fans are in the stands, you have to control those tempers... even if it is a scrimmage.

But yes... much better G-Day than game day.

Ant123 said...

David, Did you or anyone else ask why Ealey did not get yanked when Williams did? And if he received any discipline because of that incident? If not would you?
I will say that I tend to agree with fuelk2. I will also say that if Ealey didn't get diciplined this time it will happen in the season at some point. I wish all our players would let their on field performance do all of their talking. (Like Herschel).

Unknown said...

David - First, thanks for the great work as always. Second, with the depth at TE and the lack of at OLB is there a possibility of anyone moving over? And if so, does Bruce Figgins seem the natural choice? I know he has excellent blocking skills and his hands aren't bad, but I would hate to be a QB with him bearing down on me.

David Hale said...

Dan -- I floated that idea yesterday just as a hypothetical in my chat. I don't think it would happen, but as you said, I think Figgins would be the logical choice if it did. A lot of position change will depend on what the coaches think they're going to get from the incoming freshmen though.