By MICHAEL A. LOUGH
When August practice commences, Mark Richt hopes and expects his players have come to some realizations.
I kind of like that were going into this offseason with a lot of guys believing that theyve got a chance to start, or play or make the travel squad, he said. I think its probably more than any time I can remember.
Richt, in town Thursday for UGA Day in Macon at the Walnut Creek Shooting Preserve with mens basketball head coach Mark Fox, thinks there are more quality football players on campus now than since he arrived in 2001.
And it should make everybody better.
Because of that, that usually motivates guys in the offseason, Richt said before speaking to the contingent of Georgia fans. If a guys sitting there going, no matter what I do, Im second team; no matter what I do, Im not (going to) travel. I think that can be a little discouraging at times when they kind of look at the big picture.
Look at the big picture now, I think there are so many guys that are like, you know, I got a chance, I really got a chance to start, I really got a chance to play a lot, I got a chance to contribute and compete.
Richt hopes that by the time the Bulldogs reconvene that more players look at the spring practice and the depth chart and realize there really is no status quo.
Im not going to name names, OK, but theres some guys that need to have the attitude that I can go take somebodys job, I can go win a starting job if I just continue to develop and perform well, Richt said. There are some guys that can do that, on both sides of the ball. What Im talking about are the kind of guys that are like, oh, we got 10 returning starters, so those are the guys thatll be starting when we come back.
Thats not necessarily the case.
While the defense was hammered by graduation and departures, Richt said that there will also be quality battles on offense, especially up front. Xzavier Ward, Austin Long and Greg Pyke, among others, add depth to that unit.
There are some of those guys that are kind of getting to the point where they can truly compete, Richt said. A year ago, Xzavier wasnt healthy, Pyke didnt know enough to compete. Even Austin Long. Hes had a long road of rehab, and all of a sudden hes really being athletic.
Youve got some guys legitimately fighting for jobs.
Bennett mending well
Georgia lost receiver Michael Bennett in early October for the season with a torn ACL, and he is on target to return at full strength and speed.
Michael Bennett looks great, Richt said. He looks awesome.
Richt said Bennett has started running routes, uncovered, with pads. And the head coach is getting a first-hand look at Bennetts progress off of the field.
Im in there rehabbing my hip, and Michaels in there every day rehabbing his knee, Richt said. He looks a whole lot better than I do, I can tell you that.
The lost impact
Fox offered some context in how much the Bulldogs lost with the departure of guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Theres 350 roughly Division I teams, so over 3,000 Division I players, Fox said. Only nine guys in the country scored in double figures in every game. Kentavious was one of the few guys to do that.
So he had a great year. He really had a great season. Almost too good, because he left us this week. So its been bittersweet.
Fewer depth worries
Richt said there were concerns a year ago regarding depth, so the Bulldogs didnt substitute as much as theyd have liked.
He expects that to be much different in 2013, especially on defense.
This year, our No. 1 and No. 2 units, I believe, and I think (defensive coordinator Todd) Grantham believes, are much closer in their talent base to where No. 1 and No. 2 are almost identical, he said. It wont be as much an issue of the coaching staff being nervous about putting that second unit in the game.
I think, if everybody does what theyre supposed to do between now and (August), well have a lot more faith.