July 27, 2009

Richt welcomes Underdog role

Now that Media Days in Hoover has concluded and teams throughout the SEC are gearing up for the start of preseason drills, the overriding question fans from each of the 12 schools features a common theme - 'How will my team fare this fall?'

This time a season ago, the Bulldogs were basking in the glow of being picked the preseason No. 1, only to be swallowed up by those expectations. For most schools, a 10-3 record would have been cause for celebration.

But not Georgia: Although injuries certainly took their toll on the 2008 Bulldogs, the bottom line is Georgia finished the season with more questions than answers, leaving many to wonder what's in store for the team when it kicks off the 2009 campaign Sept. 5 at Oklahoma State.

Head coach Mark Richt has been asking himself those very questions.

But as opposed to a season ago when the hype proved too much for the Bulldogs to overcome, Richt senses the prevailing "Underdog mentality" wafting through the lockerroom at the Butts-Mehre Building is actually a positive sign.

That includes, he said, as it pertains to his offense now that Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno have moved on to the NFL.

"I'm sure people aren't expecting a whole lot, not only offensively but on the team as far as what people consider to be stars. Last year we had Knowshon and Matthew and everybody considered those people stars," Richt said. "Last year we had them (Stafford and Moreno) so certainly we were going to win the national championship. Conversely there're gone now so supposedly we don't have much chance to win."

Georgia certainly doesn't have that problem now.

Although quarterback Joe Cox has been the unquestioned leader - making sure Georgia's summer workout regiment is followed to a strict T - his voice isn't the only that's packing a verbal punch.

Players like Jeff Owens and Rennie Curran have been two of the more verbal, but others like Geno Atkins, Kade Weston, Clint Boling and Reshad Jones have been on the front-line making sure teammates are accountable and ready to do whatever it takes to prove the experts wrong.

"There's always a possibility you get worse but there's also a possibility you get better," Cox said. "Obviously we want to get better and do just as good as they did when they were here. We have guys that can play and try to do our best to make plays and be successful as an offense. Just because those guys are gone we're not packing up and saying 'Ok, defense. Go win the games for us.' We want to be successful too and we're doing everything we can. Time will tell."

Cox's own expectations certainly haven't changed.

Picked to finish second in the SEC East by the league media behind Florida, the North Carolina native said Georgia's goals aren't any different than they've been in his four previous years with the team.

"Our expectations haven't changed. I know a lot of people are overlooking us but that's probably the best thing for us. It's enabled us to have a good off-season and we're looking to take it on through camp and into the season," Cox said. "People make predictions and people make rankings but at the end of the day it really doesn't matter until you get on the field and play. It's not something I'm really worried about."

Richt concedes having members of the media - and maybe even some fans - doubt his team is probably doing him a favor.

"If expectations are as far as they can go what's the chance of exceeding them? We couldn't. If we have them somewhere down here you have a chance of exceeding them and really that's what I think it is more than anything else," Richt said. "I do think there is something to understand and truly believing in the team concept, in the concept that we have no chance to truly be great unless we are working together. I think we have that."

Offensively, Richt is confident that his offense will certainly be able to be effective, despite the losses of Stafford and Moreno.

While it's true that Georgia's running back position will be one of the most-watched battles this preseason, Richt says Cox's veteran presence and an experienced offensive line will certainly make the backfield's job easier.

"We know that football takes more than two guys. It's the ultimate team sport so I think the expectations aren't super high right now. But I'll say this about our offense. When you coach offensive football you tend to go about the pace that your QB can go and quite frankly at the pace that your offensive line can go," he said. "Three seasons ago Matthew's a true freshman and we're trying to navigate through that. Two years ago we've got three freshmen (offensive linemen) starting so we've got that. Last year we start with better experience but with injuries we actually had less experience with three freshmen and two sophomores up front do you're still trying to help those guys. Sometimes your skill guys help your line look better and I think that happened at times last year."

Not this fall.

"This year, we have a better line and we have a veteran quarterback," Richt said. "Joe's a veteran and he's experienced with our system. We won't have to baby Joe schematically. We won't have to baby our offensive line. I think that will help us."

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