April 11, 2013

The future is now



Thursday was a time of reflection for Georgia head coach Mark Richt, a chance to look back at the Bulldogs' about-to-be-completed spring drills, before taking a quick look ahead to what he hopes will be a successful 2014 campaign.

Granted, plenty of questions remain for the defending SEC East champs.

On defense, there's still the matter of having to find basically eight new starters, while there's still some shaking out to do regarding whose going to play where on the offensive line.

"We've got a good idea of who's getting closer to be ready to play, but as far as starting positions, I can't think of a time where there's been more uncertainty as far as who is going to be able to start," Richt said before practice Thursday. "But I feel like we've got the right ingredients, I feel like we've got the right talent base, it's just a matter of whose going to win it and are they going to be mature enough to play early enough with how the season begins."

Despite its overall youth, it's not believed that depth will be an issue. Inexperienced yes, but the numbers are there.

That's particularly the case regarding the offensive line, where Richt made a point to clear up some on-air comments he made where some took the Bulldog coach to be disappointed and worried about their progression.

"I got on the radio and they were asking me questions about the offensive line, but it's not so much a question of do we have enough guys who can play a position, it's more of a question of where everybody's going to line up,"Richt explained. "The entire line is back from last year and we did well on offense, we broke a lot of school records, so I'm not disappointed in the offensive line, but I see guys who weren't starters or players last year start to get better, healthier, trying to show Coach that they deserve to play, or maybe they deserve to start."

That list includes backups like Watts Dantzler, Austin Long, Mark Beard and Xzavier Ward, who wound up getting most of the reps with the first team at right tackle.

"David Andrews is probably going to be the center and there's some other guys I think will start but whether they will start at guard, tackle, I don't know," Richt said. "If a guy like Ward wins a job it kind of changes the dynamic of what's going to happen at the tackle position. If that happens, is one of those tackles going to become a guard? I think everybody's starting jobs are up for grabs there."

But competition is a good thing.

"If you're working out this summer thinking you've got something locked down, you'd better recheck your thinking, because we're going to have 29 practices in the fall before we nail down who's going to start across the board," he said. "There's going to be a lot of competition."

Defensively, Richt said pretty much every starting defensive position will be up for grabs come fall, the two exceptions being cornerback Damian Swann and Will linebacker Jordan Jenkins.

Otherwise, it's wide open.

That includes what will be a new-look defensive line, where Garrison Smith, Mike Thornton[/d]b at nose and [db]Sterling Bailey currently make up the first unit.

"I think we're going to have a lot of guys playing but I'm not sure who is going to start. It's up for grabs. Just about any of those jobs is up for grabs," Richt said. "I'm not convinced we're settled on who's going to play the middle linebacker position. I'm not 100 percent certain who is going to start on the perimeter. I can safely say that Swann is going to be one of them, but there's some guys who have earned the right to be No. 1 at the end of spring, but in the fall there will be more competition coming in so we'll see.

"Jordan Jenkins, I would say he's the closest, he'd be a starter at outside linebacker, but everything is up for grabs, too."

But Richt has his fingers crossed.

"Defensively, we see really good signs, but we're not a solid cohesive unit because we're not really sure who's going to play. We've got some guys coming in that we think can challenge for some playing time. It's going to be pretty fluid here for a little bit, even in camp," he said. "I think we've got a bunch of guys who are going to work hard and earn jobs, and that want to play fast but until we start playing another team, I don't know how good we are. It's hard to tell. Even when you go against each other, it's hard to tell."

THIS AND THAT

Richt confirmed he will not be attending the NFL Draft in New York City as it's not expected that many of his former players, like Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, will be attending the event. … Richt said he was surprised to see Michael Bennett - although still in his green non-contact jersey - run routes with the rest of the receivers during practice on Tuesday. "He didn't look a whole lot different than the rest of the guys. He was running at a pretty good clip, it wasn't like he was off to the side running at three-quarters speed," Richt said. "He looked like he was running full speed, came out of his break and made some nice catches. I was like 'Man, I hope he's OK' but he looked great. It made him feel good. It made me feel good.'" Bennett, who tore his ACL right before last year's game against South Carolina, is expected to be fully-cleared to resume all football activities by June. … Ever wonder why Georgia didn't do much rotating with its defensive line toward the end of last year, especially in the SEC title game? Richt answered the question on Thursday. "We did to a certain degree but towards the end of the year, when Abry (Jones) went down (against Kentucky) it wasn't like we threw another guy into the rotation. We were rotating a good bit, but especially when Abry went down, at end, we probably didn't have enough guys that we felt comfortable putting in there," he said. "That was the main reason. We've got a feeling that we'll have a higher comfort level with more guys than we had a year ago, basically."