AUGUSTA - Mike Bobo is trying to play the Shawn Williams role when it comes to the Georgia offense this year.
This time last year, it was the Georgia defense that was coming off a hugely successful season, had nearly every starter back, and appeared set for a great season. Then it fell flat, perhaps buying too much into its own hype, and it took until Williams' "playing soft" rant before the Florida game for the unit to kick into gear.
Now it's the Georgia offense, fresh off breaking records, that has nearly every starter back. Bobo, the offensive coordinator, just got a raise and a long-term contract. But after watching what happened with the defense last year, Bobo is doing his best not to let a similar complacency set in.
“I’m not the most popular guy with our offensive football team right now," Bobo said Thursday. "They don’t like me too much after this spring. I really tried to hammer the point that last year is last year. And we’re not gonna be able to show up to practice, or show up in the fall, and say, Hey we’re gonna pick up where we left off last year.
“We did some good things offensively last year, but that’s over with. If we want to improve as an individual and as a football team, and an offensive football team, we need to approach every day like we did last year, with something to prove.”
The good news for Bobo is that he’s seen a hard-working approach this offseason, led by quarterback Aaron Murray. The offense, led by Murray, hasn’t changed its attitude much from last offseason, when it had little of the expectations it has now.
Murray and Bobo spoke over the phone on Wednesday evening, when Bobo was done with some recruiting visits, and just wanted to get an update on offseason conditioning. The coaches can’t oversee the players during the offseason, so Bobo takes heart in any good news he gets about players-only work.
“I think that’s the No. 1 plus coming back is we’ve got a guy in Murray who has done it for a number of years, and he’s gotta continue to do that, and lead this football team,” Bobo said.
The offense did struggle at times in spring practice, and had an underwhelming performance on G-Day. Of course it didn't help that top receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Michael Bennett were out, as was top receiver recruit Tramel Terry, and starting guard Chris Burnette.
“I like our mindset, and I might have seemed frustrated sometimes in spring ball sometimes when I talked to you guys," Bobo said, addressing media members. "But I do like our leadership, I do like the way they approach each day. But I’m always worried about complacency, I’m always worried about what you said: Guys patting them on the back, telling them how good they are, ‘You got everybody back, you’re gonna do this, you’re gonna do that.’
“None of that matters. It didn’t matter when people told us we were no good (last year).”
The offensive line is the main concern on offense, as it has been the past few years. Immediately after the G-Day game, Bobo and offensive line coach Will Friend juggled the first- and second-team units, in what seemed to be a message to certain players.
Bobo was asked Thursday if that was the case.
“It’s where we felt as a staff everyone graded out at that point, and where everybody deserved to be,” Bobo said. “Competition’s a good thing. I’m glad we’ve got more guys that are trying to get in that starting lineup, or trying to get in that six, seven guys that we’re depending on will play. We’ve gotta find tackles that we can roll. We’ve gotta be able to work more guards in there if something happens.”
Bobo named just one player who is “entrenched” as a starter: Junior center David Andrews. The big domino to fall appears to be at right tackle: Xzavier Ward, a redshirt sophomore, is pushing for a job there, and if he gets it that would likely shift sophomore John Theus to left tackle and push senior Kenarious Gates to one of the guard spots.
Gates, a potential four-year starter, should be the team’s best left tackle, according to Bobo. But Gates needs to lose weight, weighing in around 330 this spring, while 305 is the more ideal playing weight at tackle. So he's not assured a starting spot, nor apparently is anyone not named Andrews.
“You’d like to get three to four tackles that can play, and Ward has shown some ability to do good things in practice,” Bobo said. “I think it was a confidence thing with him, coming off so many knee injuries he had in high school, and at camp he hadn’t really been able to practice over an extended period of time. And this spring was the first time being able to really do that, and able to fight through some of that pain he had had in his knees, and give himself some confidence.”