Mailbag: Don't keep your opinion to yourself

semerson@macon.comJanuary 25, 2013 

ATHENS – There are many, many things that a sportswriter could sportswrite about the very crazy stories going on this month. Many of my colleagues have already weighed in, and you’re probably sick of reading about them. So I’ll keep this short, before getting to your questions:

- The Manti Te’o story is still interesting, but please, let’s not turn this into a scandal. There’s no need for people to address this like it’s Watergate, reporting on phone records as if you’ve gotten hold of secret state department cables. It’s a salacious, TMZ-style story. When we look back on this eventually, we will marvel at the out-sized attention this got. No one died. (As it turned out.)

- Having said that, I still have enough interest in the story to weigh in on Te’o: I wouldn’t draft him. At best, he was too easily duped, then turned the story into a chance to garner sympathy and attention for himself. And I don’t buy that he struggled in the BCS championship because he was distracted by the story. I think he struggled because Alabama has a great offensive line and Te’o was overrated.

- As bad as it looks for the sports media members who were taken in by the Te’o story, I’m getting a little sick of the criticism from the non-sports portion of the journalism world. Shall I list all the stories that have been blown by other media, both national and local? The writers who wrote the Te’o story without checking, from Pete Thamel to Gene Wojciehowski to others, are good journalists who shouldn’t be judged on these stories alone. Plenty of people blew this. And the non-traditional sports media types who are attacking the traditional media types ... stop it. Act like you've been there before.

- All that said, apologies in advance to the next Georgia athlete who tells me his or her story of struggle and redemption, but there will certainly be outside verification. (As Ronald Reagan said about the Soviet Union, “trust but verify.) Thank goodness Chris Burnette’s engagement, which we all wrote about last fall, was on YouTube, or else a bunch of us would have been scrambling last week to dig up an engagement ring receipt.

- I have no opinion on Lance Armstrong. Other than sadness. Oh, and Oprah Winfrey did a very good job. (Much better than Katie Couric did with Te'o, but again, cheating by using PEDs is an actual scandal, unlike getting Catfished.)

- Final thought: Once the Super Bowl teams were set I was amused at how quickly many started rolling their eyes at the brother vs. brother storyline, complaining about how much we’d hear about it over the ensuing two weeks. Yes, the Super Bowl gets a lot of hype and storylines get beaten to death. (Jerome Bettis playing in hometown Detroit being the worst example.) But let’s not overlook how amazing the Harbaugh story actually is: It’s unusual for two brothers to even go in the same profession, then to both do well in such a competitive profession as coaching – and then even more amazing for them both to become NFL head coaches. The fact they’re squaring off in the Super Bowl is quite remarkable. That doesn’t mean I’ll read every word about it, but c’mon people, don’t roll your eyes. This is pretty special.

Okay, on to your thoughts:

1. Does the experience on the O-Line translate to improvement in the only place it is needed, i.e., getting 4 yards on the ground when we need it in a tight spot and they know we're going to run it? It is that ability and requisite nastiness among the front five that wins championships (see Bama).

2. Can the hunger of a group of younger and unproven players be as good or better than an NFL talent-laden roster that too often was trying to make the great play or waiting on someone else to make the play as opposed to doing their job. I think it can and will. Eleven defenders (with the talent at UGA) simply doing their job can be pretty damn good.

3. While reading quotes from Chip Kelly's news conference, he said his DC had to have about 20 guys ready for the rotation because of how quickly Oregon scored. I recall from this year thinking numerous times, "Awesome to score so quickly but, the defense just sat down." Given our commitment to the up tempo offense and inherent big play ability, are these two philosophies inextricably intertwined? Maybe this is why we are recruiting so many "ready to play" D linemen?

Here's to the departing senior and juniors from 2012 - a collection of some damn good dogs!
- James Colvin, Tulsa

1. Good question. I’d actually argue that whether Georgia can stop the run next year is the bigger question, but you do raise a legitimate concern: The prevailing wisdom is that Georgia will have a great offense next year because of everyone back – but what if the line is just average, as it basically was this year? Aaron Murray, Gurshall and company were spectacular anyway in 2012, but that doesn’t mean they will be in 2013. (Remember how the Georgia defense was supposed to be spectacular again in 2012?) To try to answer your question, I’ll say that it depends on how the Bulldogs settle their line, and whether David Andrews, Chris Burnette, John Theus and company can be consistently good.

2. I agree. I’ve made the point before – actually I’ve made it a lot, and will continue to do so – that Georgia’s young defense only needs to be average in 2013, because statistically it was average in 2012, even with all that talent. And is there going to be enough talent in 2013 to at least be an average SEC defense. I think so, yes.

3. Another astute observation, James. I may need to put you on retainer. Two years ago, Georgia went to the no-huddle in an effort to get more plays per game, and it worked. But I wonder how much discussion there was with the defense, in terms of getting it ready to play more. One of my criticisms of Todd Grantham this past year was not substituting enough, especially on the defensive line. There were not 20 players on defense who played regularly. I’d be curious if Grantham is re-evaluating that entering the next season – especially since this year it will be a little easier to sit the starters. In Grantham’s defense, the past few years it had to be hard to take Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, John Jenkins, Shawn Williams and others off the field.

Hey Seth - I was wondering if you have heard anything more about Kolton Houston recently? Also, what is your feeling about what direction UGA would go if Coach Grantham were to leave?
- Jackson Bullard

Nothing new on Houston. Mark Richt has been asked periodically about it, and there’s never been an indication things were moving in a better direction. Every indication is that Houston will stick around and try to get eligible – since it’s an NCAA issue, it’s not like transferring would help, unless he wanted to go the NAIA route. I’m sure, as long as Houston wants, that UGA will push his case again with the NCAA – which continues to have credibility issues, by the way, if you’ve been following the Miami case.

I’m really not sure where Richt would turn for a Grantham replacement – although he’s probably had some time to think about it lately. Chris Wilson, recently hired as the defensive line coach, has coordinator experience, which none of the other defensive assistants had, at least at the SEC or even FBS level. But Wilson was also demoted from the role at Mississippi State. Whatever happens eventually with Grantham, I’m reasonably sure Richt would stick with a 3-4 system, given that’s what Georgia has been recruiting to the past three years.

Belated Happy New Year Seth! I must admit that the loss in the SEC Championship game left me in a fog for awhile. The Bowl game win helped me heal a little bit. That being said, I have a few questions for you.

1- Do you think there will be as much written about our tough schedule this year as was written about how easy last year was? Will Spurrier complain that he gets Miss State (at home) and Arkansas from the West?

2- What last minute surprise (good or bad) do you think will happen on Signing Day?

3- Will UGA ever be a program/fan base that expects championships from its basketball Team? I never attended a basketball game when I was there, and didn't know many that did. I went to the Coliseum for graduations and to pick up my student tickets.
- Scott Shepard, Chattanooga, TN

1-Yes, I suspect Spurrier is secretly happy his proposal to have division record determine the division winner was shot down last summer. Georgia’s rough early schedule is already generating a lot of notice; the fact Georgia plays three of its first four games against ranked teams, all potentially ranked in the top 15, will be mentioned quite often.

2-Oh, I’m not in the business of trying to divine the thinking of teenage kids. I do think it will be a big disappointment for Georgia if it doesn’t get Laremy Tunsil. As for the other major targets (Montravius Adams, Davin Bellamy, Alvin Kamara, Reuben Foster), I don’t expect Georgia to run the table. I think Georgia would be thrilled to get two of those four, and beyond ecstatic to get three of them.

3-Georgia’s basketball fan base left something to be desired, to be perfectly blunt. It only turns out for a winner – and even when it had an NCAA tournament-bound team two years ago, the place wasn’t filled very much. I think it’s gotten worse lately – and that goes for everywhere in the SEC not named Kentucky and Florida. Football has dwarfed everything, hurting attendance in basketball. Even from my standpoint, I can get 10 times the number of web hits on an offseason football story than practically any basketball item. And to be frank, recruits don’t want to go play in cavernous arenas. A place like Georgia will need sustained success – two or three NCAA trips in a row – to truly get something going.

1-There are lots of comments about how various parts of Georgia’s men's basketball program have underperformed. However, my main concern is that Fox so totally misread this team. In the summer (according to the Red & Black) he said, “Unlike last year, where we had lost so much productivity, this year we go in returning a great deal of the previous team and we'll have a group that will certainly be more experienced and...a team that is more physical.” Was he seeing a different team? And this is the guy recruiting players? 2-Will (women’s basketball head coach) Andy Landers ever be shown the door? Yeah, I realize he’s won a billion games, built the program... But doesn’t the game seem to be passing him by? Seems each year he gets outcoached, at least a couple of times each year actually. And that’s now without Pat Summit stealing his lunch money.

Thanks for your continued excellent coverage. ...
- Dawgs Dawg, Tucker Ga.

1-I think you make a very astute observation: Last year Fox knew the team would struggle, decimated by the departures of Thompkins and Leslie. But this year caught Fox and his coaches by surprise: They really thought they’d get more out of the supporting cast around Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. But it hasn’t happened. Nemi Djurisic didn’t make the expected improvement in his sophomore year. The low-post players – Donte’ Williams, John Florveus and Tim Dixon – haven’t performed either. It’s been well-documented that recruiting has been a concern: Caldwell-Pope is the only marquee recruit Fox has reeled in, although this year’s freshmen (Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann and Brandon Morris) all look like they have a chance to develop into good players. The problem is getting quality low-post talent, and that’s where not getting Tony Parker last year hurt.

2-I understand the frustration with the Lady Bulldogs not cracking past the Sweet 16 lately. But the sport is much more competitive than when Landers started out, so it says something to at least get that. And this year they’re 16-3, and 4-2 in the conference. Barring something unforeseen, I suspect Landers will be able to leave the program on his own terms.

Can you ask Fox specifically about Sherrard Brantley on the basketball team? Kenny Gaines' defense, offense, & rebounding are way better and he should be playing instead of him. I believe I figured up that Brantley has played 80 minutes the last four games and has given us a total of three points on a fast break layup & foul. Our team struggles to score and we need Gaines' scoring ability. Please press Fox on this, it is so deflating seeing Gaines on the bench with the team we are having to watch on the floor. If he says that Gaines doesn't know the plays, please point to Brantley's stats and ask him if it looks like the "knowing the plays" is helping at all. Sorry for the length. Thanks!
- Jon from New Orleans

I’ve been a big proponent of Gaines’ ability since I saw him play well in Georgia’s exhibition game, but since then Gaines has only showed his ability in spurts. I do see why Brantley is playing – he comes off the bench hoisting 3-pointers – but his ability to do even that has been limited thus far. (His shooting percentage is down from previous years.) I would guess Fox is showing loyalty to a senior over a freshman, and that the senior also knows the system better at this point. Gaines does have a higher ceiling, and going forward I’d expect him to play more.

But it’s not just Brantley vs. Gaines that might be stifling the team’s offense. I think Fox and his staff – understandably – have been giving their post players (Florveus, Dixon and occasionally Cannon) a lot of leeway to try to finally get going. It might be time to abandon that hope and go with a super-small lineup: I’d be really interested to see how a lineup with Djurisic and Morris (both 6-7) at the posts would work with a bunch of guards (Caldwell-Pope, Gaines, Charles Mann or Vincent Williams at the point.)

Do you think Richt will let Huston Mason get significant playing time this year? What’s your thoughts about the Lumineers?
- Bryan Hall, via Twitter

Well, I don’t know about “letting” Mason play. Richt has already ruled out a David Greene-D.J. Shockley scenario. That seems smart, given that the starter is as accomplished as Murray. I could see Mason getting some series’ against weaker non-conference opponents, or in other spots in order to get him ready to assume the starting mantle in 2014. But you don’t want to sit your four-year starter when the game is still in doubt.

I have to confess to being unaware of the Lumineers. But I see their debut album has gone gold, furthering my worry that I’m getting older and more out of touch. I want to still be cool when I have children, and the chances for that are dwindling, sadly.

What's going on with Christian LeMay? Is it an effort thing or is he just not the QB scouts thought he was?
- Andrew Brasuell, via Twitter

It’s not effort, from what I can tell. I can’t speak for what the quarterback scouts or recruiting people were saying about him, as he committed before I arrived on the beat. But from what I’ve seen, in limited practice viewings, and warm-ups, is a quarterback who doesn’t really have the kind of pop on his throws, or accuracy, that you would expect out of an SEC quarterback. Could he be, and I just keep seeing him on bad days? Sure. But I can say that when I watch him in comparison to Murray, Mason and even Parker Welch and Faton Bauta, there is a noticeable difference in the zip on the throws. And if he were making up for it in accuracy and running ability, he wouldn’t have been behind Welch on the depth chart this year. Finally, LeMay’s grasp of the offense, by his own admission, has been slow to take hold.

Well, I'm going off subject a little and I will keep it short. I would like to visit the NFL a little. Is it just me or is it that since the Patriots got caught videotaping their opponents, they just seem to be just average and beatable. Do you think that it may have given them enough of an edge to make a difference when they won those Super Bowls?
- Larry W. Tucker

That point has been made, and while their amount of Super Bowl rings has gone down, I think it’s fair to point out that the Patriots are still pretty successful: They were the AFC’s top seed this year and hosted the conference championship game, and they made two Super Bowls in the past five years, even if they didn’t win them. Now, could you argue they needed the videotaping edge to win the big games? I guess so, but I don’t have strong feelings either way.

I do think Bill Belichick is an unapologetic crank and a sore loser, when he blows off the postgame television interview. I really don’t want to hate Belichick, but when you do stuff like that …

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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