March 18, 2012

Previewing the spring

The start of spring practice is still just over a month away, but Thursday, Georgia coach Mark Richt held a 30-minute teleconference with reporters to discuss a wide range of subjects regarding his 2012 Bulldog squad.

Included were queries about Sanders Commings, position changes and whether or not the three recently dismissed players - Sanford Seay, Chris Sanders and Nick Marshall - could possibly return to the team.

The following is a transcript of that teleconference and the subjects that were discussed.

Q - Could Ray Drew see time at defensive end, and what other position changes might be in the future?

A - "Our defense is very versatile. A linebacker, who at one time might be standing up as a linebacker, the next play he's got his hand on the ground rushing the passer. The flexibility of doing that has been going on as long as Todd has been here. The bottom line is, we're going to play everybody on any given game, or any given personnel grouping, if that makes sense. Certain personnel groupings do this, and another grouping may be doing something else, just depending on what we're trying to defend."
"The versatility of the defense allows that. We've kind of been doing that all along, and I know people have been talking about Malcolm Mitchell, could he end up playing some cornerback. Quite frankly, we're going to experiment with that and see how much he can handle learning some cornerback, so I think that's something."
"We've talked about Richard Samuel maybe playing some fullback. There's a chance of that, too. We have got to make sure that we take up the entire talent base of our football team and get the best players out there and we have them in the situations that we need them in. If it means a guy playing both ways, playing two positions on defense, or if it means the entire starting lineup on offense and defense playing special teams, I don't care what it is. Whatever we've got to do to get the best players on the field, we're going to do that."

Q - With depth now an apparent problem in the secondary, what kind of effect will that have this fall?

A - "It's a lot thinner, for sure, right this minute. It did affect special teams play as well. Our cornerback position took a hit and our special teams. All our special teams play took a hit, so again, do we have enough of a talent base on this team to play the level we expect to play, I still believe we do but we may have to stretch guys a little bit here and there from a learning standpoint and getting more reps. But most every great player who is not a quarterback or a certain position, or maybe an offensive lineman - most all those guys in one time or another are going to play some special teams (kick-off , kick return, punt, punt return). It's all hands on deck. There's going to be … we're going to make sure everyone knows how crucial they are and that special teams now is just as or maybe more so important than playing defense or offense on first down. "

Q - Why did you go ahead and hand down your two-game suspension to Sanders Commings?

A - "We don't like anything like that. We're not going to have any of that behavior. We don't condone it. There's always circumstances that some people know or don't know. I certainly wasn't there, I don't know exactly what happened, but I've got enough information to feel confident that he did not behave as well as he should and he's going to have to live out the consequence for that. Of course, playing time is what everybody seems to care about the most and I'm not only talking about the player, but the media, everyone else, the Bulldog Nation or whoever we're going to play down the road. But there's a greater price that's being paid than just that, but as always, there's an educational piece to this thing and there's always when things are done properly that we keep loving these guys, too. But right now he's living through the consequences of his actions. That's just the way it happens here at Georgia."

Q - As a coach, do you prefer the 6-1-1 (schedule format) in 2012 or like the 6-2 with two teams rotating or are you interested in going to nine league games?

A - "That's a tough question. I know that our league is a very difficult league. Eight league games to me is plenty to prove that you're a good football team and then when you always play Georgia Tech to go along with that, that's another one you've got to deal with that's going to take everything you've got. If you go to nine league games and continue to have Georgia Tech on there and then on top of that, win your division, then win the SEC Championship Game, then if there ever was a day you'd have to play the plus-1, win that game and then there's another game. For me, personally it's enough to prove that you're a good football team and you deserve to move on."

Q - Would you prefer the 6-2 to the 6-1-1 format?

A - "I don't know. I know our rival game with Auburn is very important to us and it would be kind of hard not to have that in my opinion for the reasons just like Texas and Texas A&M not playing. It's sad when you lose rival games, so I don't know if I'd ever be excited about losing those rival games."

Q - What will it be like seeing Brian VanGorder and Willie Martinez on the coaching staff at Auburn?

A - "I don't know if it can get more emotional for our team or our coaching staff. Every time we play those guys it's huge for us and we're always hoping that when we play that game it's very meaningful for both teams. But when you know guys real well, you know them and you love them, it probably adds a little something to it on a personal level. But I've been in games, when I first got to Georgia we played Florida State in the bowl game and you kind of get that different sensation as you prepare but as soon as you start to compete, you just want to win the game, just like any other game."

Q - Is their any scenario that would allow Sanford Seay, Nick Marshall and Chris Sanders to return to the team in the future?

A - "You know what? All I can tell you right now is I want these guys to do great and still be able to chase their dream of playing major college football, get their degree and play pro ball or whatever their goals may be. That's what I hope for all guys if they end up being dismissed from our football team. As far as that other question, I'm not going to sit here and say 100 percent yes and 100 percent no. But right now they're on this journey where they've just got to take care of business, so maybe later on we can talk about the possibility of that, but right now I'm not in position to say."

Q - What can the defense do to build off of last year?

A - "Having the majority of our defense return is a big deal and a lot of them are going to be seniors and leaders, proven playmakers and such, which is a very good thing for us. We don't want to rest on any accomplishments in the past, and I don't think our coaches will allow that, I don't think our leaders will allow it. I think one thing they all want to do a better job of is finish better. We could have finished a lot better our last two ball games as a team, not just defensively and I know our defense knows at the moment of truth, when we've got to get a stop, we've got to get a stop. Offensively, it's the same thing. When we've got to score, we've got to score. Defensive statistics are good and all that kind of thing, but the bottom line is we all know whether it's an offense, defense or special teams play - sometimes in the course of the game somebody's got to rise up and make a play. I think everybody on our offense, defense and special teams need to rise to the occasion when it counts the most."

Q - How crazy was the Signing Day situation involving Josh Harvey-Clemons?

A - "The one thing talking to Josh he knew in his heart he wanted to be a Bulldog, there's no doubt about that. Even though it got delayed there a little bit, he never really wavered in his thought process so that was one of the things we were talking about and the next morning everything was settled and it was fine. I'm a big fan of Josh and his entire family; I'm a big Woodrow Clemons fan as well. As a matter of fact, I just saw him at an event I was at for James Eunice, the young man who died on the Valdosta football team a couple of years back. We had an event to honor him, saw Woodrow at that event, got a chance to shake hands and all that. It was good."

Q - Could Harvey-Clemons get a look at safety?

A - "I don't think so. We see him more as a linebacker, who we hope, can stay in the game more in the base looks and the nickel looks. Sometimes you'll put a nickel corner at the Sam linebacker position, even a safety into that Sam linebacker position so if you've got a guy with his kind of ability, you might not take him off the field so that's where we want to allow him to grow. He's also got some offensive skills and he just may be a guy we throw some balls to in the red zone as well. Whether he can handle all that as a true freshman, I don't know, but before his career is over we'll definitely give him this opportunity offensively as well."

Q - Is there an urgency to get your contract completed?

A - "It's going to happen in due time and I don't have any anxiety at all. I think I mentioned once before, it's some different language in there; I don't even know how to describe it, except when you re-write a contract, there's just things that everybody has to feel comfortable with, just ironing out all those little things. It's more just crossing the T's and dotting your I's type stuff. Greg (Athletic Director Greg McGarity) and I have had our discussions and everything has gone extremely well. I don't have any issues at all except making sure it's right. We didn't really get going actually until after Signing Day, so it's not like this has been worked on since December or anything like that."

Q - How have the early enrollees adapted to the college grind?

A - "We just had our academic meetings today, our defensive staff at 10, our offensive staff when we got down at about 10:30 and we covered every player, every class like we always do and talking about the young guys. That was one of my questions, just to see their attitude, their work ethic and everything else they're bringing to the academic realm and our academic people are really pleased with all three of them, just coming in, being all business and doing really well. With their ability and their work ethic, those guys are going to do really good."

Q - How big a question mark is the O-line in regards to who is gone and who is returning?

A - "Anytime you replace three starters you always have question marks, the question is whether you have the talent base on the team to get the job done and I'm really getting encouraged. I'm not going to say that we're going to line up and whip tail every single down because that's tough to do, but I'm encouraged because I see these guys work hard, I see these guys fight through the off-season work that we're doing, I see some athleticism, I see some guys who will and can learn and not have assignment busts and things like that. If you can get a lineman whose got a little toughness about him, that's got some athleticism, really know what they're doing and they're coordinated and they don't make a lot of mistakes - if they ' get their hat on the right guy', get their assignment and fight, you've got a chance to move the ball, create space and give the quarterback time to throw. So I think we've got that. We're trying to determine how many guys will actually be game-ready by the time the season starts. There may be as many as eight or nine in my mind where if they keep progressing, can line up and play SEC football, and that counts the guys we signed as well."

Q - Will there be any tinkering with special teams and what coach does what in that regard?

A - "No, we're not going to change who does what. We're just making sure we're real comfortable with what we're doing and very comfortable with whom we have on special teams and we take the time to be good at it."

Q - Is the way strength and conditioning staff are trending that it's important to have a speed guy?

A - "I do. I think it's good to have a lot of versatility within your staff. It's more than just getting strong. It's strength and conditioning, it's strength and flexibility, it's strength and speed, it's the entirety of your off-season program and one of the things you want to get accomplished is, you absolutely want to get stronger, you want to get more flexible, you want to get faster, you want to have great agility, you want to have stamina. You want to have that kind of diversity on your staff, but also if you work the muscle and don't feed it, well, you've got problems and that's why we've got Ms. Jenn Ketterly (team nutritionist) and I think we've really improved that part of the equation. The other part is trying to find time for those to get rest and part of that responsibility is theirs to get to bed, but also we try to manage their days the best we can with all the academic, athletic and training room … whatever these guys do we try to manage it well in their rest time."