Richt, Georgia welcome role of division co-favorite

mlough@macon.comJune 12, 2012 

The new contracts have been adjusted for a few coaches, and the schedule has been altered and set.

The depth chart can, for the most part, be written in ink for nearly every position.

And Georgia head coach Mark Richt is ready, for everything and everybody.

“It’s early summer, but I think everybody’s really excited about not only the season, but preparing for the season,” Richt said Tuesday at the annual Peach State Pigskin Preview at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. “I hope that they follow through with what I think they want to accomplish.”

Richt was joined by quarterback Aaron Murray and safety Shawn Williams, along with coaches and players from throughout the state, to talk football before the final breaks and vacations precede team and conference media days next month, and then practice.

Murray was ready to head back to Athens and hit the field, which was the plan Tuesday with the start of 7-on-7 drills.

He said things start out slow so the newcomers can see what they’re supposed to do before they go out and do it. But Murray won’t need to spend too much time indoctrinating, because the Bulldogs have plenty of skill weapons back on offense with Marlon Brown, Michael Bennett, Tavarres King and Chris Conley, among others, from last season’s 10-4 team that won the SEC East and was 39th nationally in total offense and 25th in passing efficiency.

One change is that Murray will see less of Malcolm Mitchell. The talented sophomore will be a two-way player this season, at wideout and cornerback, a transition that began in the spring.

“He just goes back and forth, pretty much,” Murray said. “I know he’ll be ready. He knows the plays still, will still run all the routes. He knows the footwork, he knows the yardage. He’ll be ready to go, offense or defense.”

Richt said it was important for Mitchell to spend nearly the entire spring on defense.

“If you’re going to try to play some corner, you don’t really want to dabble in it,” Richt said. “You want to know exactly all the calls, you want to know how to line up quickly. You don’t want to slow the team down.”

Which Mitchell is unlikely to do.

“Mentally, he won’t have trouble learning both systems,” Richt said of going two ways. “There won’t be a problem. The question is how much can his body take.”

As elder statesmen, Murray and Williams will keep an eye on their teammates and how they handle the highest expectations for the Bulldogs since either one arrived in Athens.

Georgia and South Carolina are the two favorites in the SEC East, and the Bulldogs are all but a consensus top-10 team in the preseason while also in the discussion as a national championship contender.

“I try not to pay much attention to it, because everybody expects us to win each and every game,” Williams said. “The only way we can do that is to take one game at a time. We can’t overlook anybody because no one’s going to take us lightly.”

Murray won’t look to temper anything, even with always confident newcomers.

“We love it,” he said. “We love that guys come in here with high expectations. They came in last week and they were in a team meeting, and they were going around introducing each other.

“Pretty much 75, 80 percent of them pointed over to our wall. ‘We want to put more plaques on the wall. That’s our goal. We came here to win championships.’ ”

So there might be a little more swagger around the Butts-Mehre building.

“That’s awesome,” said Murray, whose name is on plenty of Heisman hopeful lists. “I love the fact that they want to get in there and compete and push the older guys and win championships. That’s something we don’t want to lose.”

The only real question marks involve the discipline and punishments of defensive backs Sanders Commings, Baccari Rambo and Branden Smith, as well as linebacker Alec Ogletree. Commings is officially out for two games, but Richt offered nothing new on the punishments for the others.

“We’re not ready to say anything publicly,” Richt said. “But I guess that’s all I’ll say.”

Georgia’s first four opponents are Buffalo, Missouri, Florida Atlantic and Vanderbilt, so the Bulldogs will be doing some serious mixing and matching on defense for perhaps that entire stretch.

“We’ll just have to see how it plays out,” said Williams, a senior from Early County. “I know that in this camp that we’re going to have, we’re going to have to try to see that we can get everybody into game-plan shape and knowledge, and keep pounding information in the young guys’ heads, so if there’s a time that we do need them, that it won’t be a dropoff. Everybody will know what to do.”

Richt said all that spring practice did was whet his appetite for August, and he’s for all 100 or so to be in uniform and start working on those expectations.

“Going into the summer, we really hardly have anybody who’s got an issue,” he said of the Bulldogs’ health. “If no one gets hurt in the summer, when camp starts, when two-a-days start, every single guy on our team should be able to practice without limitations.

“That hasn’t happened in a long time. If they’re in great condition and if they’re stronger and they’re faster and quicker as a team, it’s gonna be a great way to start our camp.”

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