ATHENS — After being limited to lifting weights and performing in non-contact drills for more than two months, the Georgia players will get a chance to hit today for the first time since the Capital One Bowl.
Although there won’t be an official scrimmage, head coach Mark Richt is confident that the intensity will not be lacking.
“(Today) is going to be a spirited practice,” Richt said. “First day of pads is usually that way. I think the tension is already building, and I got a feeling that we’re gonna have to pull some guys off of each other.”
Despite giving up nearly 25 points per game a year ago, Richt made it clear that it is the defense that is making the early strides and dictating play in the majority of offseason drills.
“Defense without question is setting the tone in the spring,” Richt said. “I remember the years that I coached at Florida State, when we had that great run of 14 years in the top five, I don’t think there was a spring where the defense didn’t kick our rear end every year. It’s just the beginning, but the defense has really done a nice job.”
In addition, Georgia will also be hosting its annual Junior Day today.
“It’s a huge day,” Richt said of the opportunity. “It’s exciting that that many guys want to come. Every Junior Day we have is a little different, and this year’s emphasis is going to be about the football part of it. They’ll get to see our coaches coach and our players get after it.”
Richt expects at least 300 recruits to make the visit.
SAME FACES, NEW PLACES
Georgia’s offseason coaching shake-up didn’t exactly introduce the Bulldogs to a bunch of new faces, but former graduate assistant Bryan McClendon and former running backs coach Tony Ball have both brought new approaches to their new roles. Ball has taken over the wide receivers this season, and he’s giving each of his receivers a chance to prove their mettle with a clean slate and a fresh attitude.
“He’s got a different philosophy with what he does and how he wants to us do things, so it’s like rebuilding and starting over again,” redshirt freshman Israel Troupe said.
McClendon, who now handles Georgia’s running backs, has given his players a fresh start, too. Tailback Caleb King said McClendon has made a point of starting from scratch and teaching many of the fundamentals that may have faded into the background in the past.
Of course, Ball and McClendon don’t see this spring as any drastic departure from the past, but they are excited to be undertaking a new adventure.
“It’s not too different,” McClendon said. “I’ve been through it as a player, I’ve been through it as a graduate assistant before, so I pretty much know the regimen. The biggest thing is the excitement — how excited I am to be able to work with those guys and just to be on the field coaching. It’s always great to be out there with those guys and improving those guys on and off the field.”
KICKING IT OLD SCHOOL
Blair Walsh took plenty of criticism throughout last season for his problems on kickoffs, including hearing his head coach suggest he would fly to Poland to find someone who could handle the role. As it turns out, however, Walsh looks to be the player to handle kickoff duties once again, and while he hopes to improve the results, he hasn’t changed his approach.
“I keep it the same,” Walsh said. “I approach it just like I do everything, very professionally and try to do my best at it. But I haven’t changed any way I look at it.”
As for what the coaches might have in store for him this year, whether he’ll be kicking deep, directional kicking or not kicking off at all, Walsh said he hasn’t gotten any news.
“I don’t know yet,” Walsh said. “We haven’t really done anything yet. I don’t know what their philosophy is, I don’t know what the coaches are doing or thinking about.”
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
Troupe is one of several players this spring hoping to turn a particularly minor role last season into significant playing time this year. Troupe’s game plan for working his way into the offense is simple: He’s going back to basics.
“This year coming in is kind of like my freshman year all over again,” Troupe said. “I’ve got a clean slate coming in and I’m just starting over from scratch.”
HANGING IN THERE
Dallas Lee’s introduction to life in the SEC hasn’t been a particularly enjoyable one, thanks to the magic of offensive line coach Stacy Searels. But despite the typical freshman struggles, Lee — who Searels said is working out at center and guard so far — has held his own.
“He’s doing good,” Searels said. “It’s a kid who should still be in high school right now, but he’s out there working and it’s an eye-opening experience for him.”