What to do in an ice storm? A Georgia sports mailbag!

semerson@macon.comFebruary 12, 2014 

CLARK WILLIAMS

ATHENS - The ice storm has hit town, and the Georgia football team is using it to hold their own Winter Olympics. Mark Richt and family are curling, as the above video shows. Watts Dantzler and some teammates are luging - well, they're using a pickup to drag themselves in sleds.

And what are we doing? We're answering your questions. Here you go.

With Coach Lilly now officially functioning as a dedicated special teams coordinator on offense, do you have any reason to expect real improvement? It seems like he's always been involved in some capacity, so what evidence is there that things will change? At a minimum, do you expect less Logan Gray-style fair catching? Relatedly, has Lilly discussed how they might utilize Isaiah McKenzie?
-Edmund (Atlanta)


Lilly’s role has only been to coach the punt team. Bryan McClendon had been in charge of the punt return team. And three other assistants had roles. So at minimum honing it down to two assistants and giving them the special teams coordinator title should narrow the focus.

We don’t know yet how much of the changes are just for cosmetic purposes – Richt essentially saying “OK, now stop asking me about this” – and how much of a tangible effect it will have. As I’ve said all along, there have been good overall years for the special teams, and certain units even had good years the past couple years. There have been systematic errors on special teams. But there have also been pure individual errors – muffed snaps, muffed catches, etc. – and it’s not certain that coaching fixes those. There’s a misperception in some quarters that Georgia didn’t work on special teams. They spent parts of almost every practice on it, and occasionally would hold practices that were only about special teams.

Ultimately, I do think this move can only help. You will no longer have five position coaches whose first priority is their own unit, and second priority is special teams. You now have two assistant coaches whose dual first priority is their unit and three facets of special teams.

I have liked Todd Grantham, at least his enthusiasm. I know very little about coach Jeremy Pruitt, but it seems every fan is excited about the hire, therefore I am getting really excited as well. The question is, what kind of difference we will see between these two coaches regarding our defensive schemes. Todd's defense was one gap 3-4 defense. What kind of 3-4 does Jeremy run? I heard we will see many different formations and the scheme will be flexible, but I assume we will have a base formation, right? And where do you see Lorenzo Carter play in this system?
- Linus, Athens, Ga.

You already seem to have a good grasp on it. Pruitt has emphasized that he will run a multiple defense, with the 3-4 as the base, but that won’t constrain him.
“If you watched us play last year (at Florida State), we played a lot of four-man front, probably about 80 percent of the time,” Pruitt said on signing day. “So the guys who stand up as a 4-3 outside linebacker are in essence a defensive end.”

That’s where Carter fits. He’ll probably be used similarly to Leonard Floyd, who according to Mark Richt has the more similar body type as Carter.

Pruitt will shed more light later on his planned schemes, though as with Grantham I suspect that a) there will be adjustments as time goes on, and b) there will be some coyness, due to not wanting to tip off opponents on everything they’re planning.

I'm excited for the defensive back recruits we have coming in but with essentially no defensive backs leaving, what are the chances that new recruits see playing time in what may become a crowded secondary? Do you see Pruitt drastically improving the secondary?
- Kevin Williams

Malkom Parrish, the incoming freshman from Quitman, will get a shot at cornerback. Shattle Fenteng, the junior college transfer, should also compete for time at safety. Obviously, given what we saw last year, no spot is secure.

I do think Pruitt can get the secondary to another level – but I thought that would happen anyway. It’s just a matter of how much more Pruitt can improve it.

We've heard from several outspoken players regarding the attempt by NU players to unionize, but what is the feeling around Butts-Mehre about the impending paid players debate?
- Josh, Griffin

Wariness is probably a good way to put it, and that feeling pervades most athletics departments. They don’t want to be seen as insensitive to their athletes, but they also want to keep the amateur model. A model which, to be fair, is real and fair for the vast majority of student-athletes, with the notable exception of football and basketball.

Greg McGarity, when I asked him about the unionizing movement this week, put it this way:

“We always believe in free speech, but we also believe that they are truly student-athletes, and not employees. We are all in agreement I think across the board in the SEC, about everything that these student-athletes are advocating or supporting: The full cost of attendance, being able to provide every imaginable service to our student-athletes. So a lot of things that are being brought to the table, with probably the exception of the full cost of attendance, I think the University of Georgia and a lot of our peers, are (already doing).”

McGarity pointed to providing medical expenses as one example. And UGA is also in favor of increasing the amount of training table meals to three per deal.
The sense I get is that bigger schools that can afford more benefits to athletes are willing to provide them, but they think unionizing is going a bit too far.

“Everyone needs to learn more about everything,” McGarity said. “And so as we meet as a conference, and as we meet as groups of leaders, we’ll begin to learn more about the process. But there’s obviously movement within the NCAA to enhance certain areas of the student-athlete experience, whether it’s through a union – which we don’t think really needs to happen. We believe it can happen within the NCAA structure. That’s where you can sense, especially the five BCS conferences, that’s the way we would prefer it be handled.”

Any hints at where the attrition to make room for new signing class may come from?
- Blake Davis

By my count there are 68 returning scholarship players, not counting walk-ons who have been on scholarship, such as Merritt Hall and Kosta Vavlas. Georgia signed 21 players, so that’s 89 players, four over the NCAA limit. I won’t sit here and speculate over who might transfer, but anybody with a decent knowledge of the team could scroll through and see players who might move on.

There almost certainly would have been attrition by now had the defensive staff remained intact. There were plenty of players who didn’t see the field much, and I knew of at least two (who I won’t name) who were seriously considering it. But with a fresh start with each defensive coach it seems everyone is holding tight, and will at least see what happens at spring practice.

How many prospects can UGA sign for its 2015 class?
- Tyler King

That depends, as always, on how many players Georgia can get to enroll early. The SEC signing rule is 25 per year, but that can be spread out, not necessarily just on signing day. This year Georgia only had one early enrollee (Jacob Park) and he can count back towards 2013. There were 20 other signees who count this year. So that leaves five open spots to count back in 2015, meaning, by my math anyway, that 30 total can sign next year, as long as five enroll early. (There’s also a chance that Rico Johnson, who signed last year but didn’t qualify, can count towards last year’s class. But I’ve never received a definitive ruling from the SEC on that.)

To date UGA has not signed a mens basketball recruit for the 2014 class. Most, if not all, of the top tier in state prospects have left the state except for the one that signed with Georgia Tech. Any prospects for this year’s class or the 2015 class considering the Dawgs?
- Ron Barton, Sautee, Ga.

Georgia only has one scholarship available for next year, which is one reason they haven’t signed anybody: They’re holding that spot for in the hope of signing an elite prospect. So far they’ve struck out, and going by the 247Sports rankings, the top-rated uncommitted prospect in Georgia, John Carlos-Reyes, is the 15th-best prospect in the state, and a three-star.

Obviously Mark Fox’s job status has been hanging over the recruiting efforts, and can’t have helped. Georgia tried hard, but lost out on JaKeenan Grant, a power forward who signed with Missouri, and Tadric Jackson, a point guard who signed with Georgia Tech.

Right now everything is on hold to see the team can finish well enough for Fox to be retained – and right now it’s trending in that direction, but there’s plenty of time to go. If Fox does return, at this point I could see them not signing anybody, and holding that spot to try to get a program-changer next year. Or they could see if a new prospect becomes available. For instance Devin Mitchell, a shooting guard from Suwanee, has signed with Alabama. What happens if Anthony Grant gets fired? A situation along those lines could be worth watching.

Any updates on the big injuries from last year? How are Keith Marshall, Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley, etc doing?
- Kyle Lebet

I haven’t personally spoken to any of them or to trainers in awhile. But via tweets, Marshall reported on Jan. 20 that the next day he would be running for the first time in three months. Scott-Wesley started running on the treadmill last week, he reported via Twitter. And Mitchell was running on the side during bowl practice. None of them will be available for spring practice, at least that’s my suspicion. But they seem on track for summer workouts, fitting along Michael Bennett’s timetable from last year.

Even though Coach Richt recently talked of coaching until he is 80, do you think he desires that? With all of his outside interests in the realm of Christian/humanitarian/adoption work, is this really what he wants to do for a long haul? He certainly seems to be a coach who could walk away easier than most. Rumor here in Central Bama is that he made a handshake agreement that if things go well for Coach Pruitt, he would be first man considered to be the Head Coach when Richt steps down in the not so distant future.
- Scott C. Davis

I wouldn’t put much stock in that rumor. Good theories abound on why Pruitt made the lateral move from Tallahassee to Athens, but there’s no reason to think there was any head coach-in-waiting offered, even informally. Keep in mind, Pruitt will only be entering his second year as a college coordinator. Mike Bobo remains, in my mind, the most likely current assistant to ascend into the top role if Richt were to walk away.

Now, I’m not saying Richt will coach until he’s 80. But I was there when Richt said that, in answer to a question, and what struck me was his answer was immediate, like he’d been thinking about it. Or rehearsing it. That’s probably an answer he’s given to recruits.

I get that Richt has interests outside of Georgia – but so does Steve Spurrier, who I covered at South Carolina. Richt, at 53, is younger than four other SEC coaches: Spurrier, Nick Saban, Gary Pinkel and Les Miles. And Richt is closer in age to Kevin Sumlin, 49, Gus Malzahn, 48, and Mark Stoops and Butch Jones (46) than those four older coaches. People that know Richt swear that he’s a lot more competitive than people give him credit for, so I wonder whether he’d walk away before winning a national championship, or at least getting there.

Don't you think a significant raise has to be coming for Bryan McLendon? The man is golden as a recruiter and obviously does a tremendous job coaching RBs. Other schools have shown interest in him before, and I can only imagine that will escalate now.
- Al Dawkins, Lincolnton, Ga/

Last week I asked McGarity specifically about a raise for McClendon – knowing he’d want to dodge it, but I figured I’d try anyway. McGarity just said he’d meet with Richt soon and any contract talks would commence out of that. But yeah, my guess is McClendon – who this past year was the lowest-paid members of the staff, at $235,000 – will get a raise.

McClendon was given that salary last year, prior to this year’s recruiting haul, and prior to helping develop J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas into serviceable SEC tailbacks. I’d be surprised if he’s not rewarded soon.

If Hutson Mason should struggle, how long is the leash and is Brice Ramsey next in line?
- Jon Barrow

The leash isn’t quite as long as it was for Aaron Murray the past two years. But given the inexperience of the backups, Mason would have to struggle mightily. The top backup is up in the air, with Faton Bauta having the edge entering spring practice, but Ramsey will have a chance to push him.

How do you pronounce Sony Michel?
- Al Dawkins, again

Son-E, like the electronics. My-chal, as in Michael Jordan. And no, I'm not comparing him to Michael Jordan.

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