The Georgia Bulldogs held their first game week press conference Monday afternoon in Stegeman Coliseum. Head Coach Mark Richt spoke about pretty much every aspect of the upcoming game and the 2007 season. There were even a few surprised about who and how many freshmen will play this season.
Here is what Coach Richt had to say:
Welcome back everybody. I am excited to start this season and it will not be long now, just a couple of days. We all know we are playing a great opponent, Oklahoma State. There is a lot of buzz around for a lot of reasons. The number one reason being that their offense has been so tremendous over the last season. In 2005, they were 96th in the country in offense and they jumped to number seven. They have eight or nine players returning starters on offense. Everyone wants to start there when they talk about them. They probably deserve it to this point. They are a very dangerous offensive unit. They have quite a few returning starters.
Dave Koenig has improved quite a bit and is a very good football player. Number 76, Russell Okung is a very fine football player and probably the most athletic offensive linemen upfront.
Adarius Bowman is the one everyone wants to talk about. He is probably or at least arguably one of the most talented receivers in the country. He is big. He is a 6'4" 220 pounder that has got great speed and hands. He has the ability to catch the tough ball and run after the catch. There is not much you can say other than he is a great football player and one that will absolutely cause problems. I will say this, Brandon Pettigrew their tight end is a mismatch problem also. If you spend all day double teaming Bowman you will have trouble with Pettigrew. He is a 6'6" 260 pounder who reminds me an awful lot of Leonard Pope. You can't hardly play man-to-man coverage with a safety or a linebacker by themselves. They are a little bit of a mismatch and I think Pettigrew is that type of ball player.
At running back they are very strong with Dantrell Savage and Keith Toston. Both of those guys are averaging six-yards per carry. That's what happens when you are as diverse as they are. They throw the ball and run the ball equally well. Over 200 yards per game rushing and passing. They are very dangerous that way.
Bobby Reid the quarterback is a great kid with great talent. He has the same build as Matthew Stafford. He is a 6'3" 235 pounder that can throw and run the ball equally well. I think he had like a quarterback rating of 148 which is extremely good. He is very talented. Zac Robinson who backs him up will play some receiver for 10-15 snaps.
Their defense has at least six starters that will be seniors. They are a bunch of guys that feel like they have a lot to prove. They have been hearing it a bunch from everybody asking why they have not played as well as the offense. I know there is an awful lot of motivation for them. From what I have read about them in camp it sounds like they had a great camp and they have a new coordinator Coach Tim Beckman has them excited and ready to play ball. From what I saw in their bowl game last year, they matched up extremely well with Alabama speed wise and size wise. I think they are outstanding that way.
Their specialists are outstanding especially their punter Matt Fodge. He averaged over 45 yards a punt last year with a lot of hang time. Jason Ricks has got the ability to hit long field goals. I belief he will be their kickoff man. Their number one return man is Perrish Cox and I think he was a true freshman last year. He returned punts for about 12 yards per return and kickoffs somewhere around 27 yards per return. Tommy Devereaux backs him up.
They are well coached and have a lot of momentum coming in. They finished strong last year. They improved their record from the year before and they are trying to make a splash nationally and in their league. A lot of people are looking at them as a dark horse to win their league with good reason. It will be a good challenge for us and I think everyone will be extremely excited. I know I am.
Our DawgWalk will be at 5:05. I think someone had it down for 5:15, but we believe we will be there closer to 5:05: or 5:10, so we want to get the fans out there for that.
I have not had a chance to name our captains, on offense Fernando Velasco and Thomas Brown, on defense Brandon Miller, and on special teams Kelin Johnson. They have the right energy and attitude we need and I am excited about naming those guys. For the fans and the media to let you understand how we handle our captains. The coaches pick the captains for each ballgame and every week after that. Every week we review what happened in practice during the week, academics, and the ballgame and try to make a determination of who should be our captain for the next week. The coaches will make that decision. At the end of the year we have a vote of the team to who will be the permanent captains and I am sure these guys will be strong contenders for that.
It looks like we could play 18-20 freshmen that are true or redshirt freshmen. Some guys will be starters, some will be solid backups, or other work on special teams. There could be as many as 20 in this first ballgame. I thought that was an interesting note. A lot of that has to do with the number of guys we redshirted last year. A lot of those numbers are redshirt freshmen. As many as seven true freshmen will either start or play in this ballgame, so that bodes well for the future.
Is it concerning that the concentration that they are on the offensive line or tight end?
We could at any given moment have as many as four out of the six linemen including the tight end that are freshmen. That will probably happen sometime throughout the game. Does that concern me? A little bit, I have liked the way they have practiced. They are very talented young men that have worked hard. They are a little undersized except Bruce Figgins and NaDerris Ward are pretty good sized kids right now. The other linemen are a little smaller than they will be when they are full grown, but they have practiced well and they seem to know what they are doing. If the pressure does not get to them, I think they will be ok.
How much more confident are you than you were on August 4?
I feel better now than I did when camp started. When camp started, we rarely had the number one offensive line block well on a consistent basis. When we go eleven-on-eleven w might go four-play series with the one group and get one out of four with the one group and zero out of four with the second group. The last few practices the one group has been very solid and the number two group has had some spurts when they get better at protecting the passer. We are getting better even in our second unit. In our second unit we have new comers like Vince Vance and Justin Anderson. You got some young guys like Kevin Perez. Perez is a young guy really. We have two seniors and really freshmen.
Is Anderson a freshman that would play and is Ben Hardin one that would not?
Ben Hardin right now would not be slated to play in the first game. Justin is a maybe and he is one of the ones on the bubble. The freshmen I think will play are Trinton Sturdivant who will start at left tackle, Chris Davis who will start at left guard, Clint Boling play at right guard and possible right tackle, and either Figgins or Ward will start and both will play. Figgins being a true freshman at tight end and NaDerris is just about a true freshman because the first time he hit someone will play. He is like a true freshman because the first time he put the pads on and he somebody was this camp. With that shoulder surgery he is just about a true freshman.
Is Boling the only offensive linemen you can say for sure will be part of the rotation?
Vince Vance will play. Right now I think seven will play upfront on the offensive line and possibly Bean and possibly Perez. They are close to being in position to do that.
Is Vance a disappointment because he is not in a starting role?
No he is not, Vince is improving and he will play. When Vince does it just right it looks great. He has been a little inconsistent and he has been up and down. He has been a big part of that second unit that has put together some nice practices the last couple of times out. Will it be a true three man rotation, I do not know about that, but I can see that before it is over between Chester Adams, Sturdivant, and Vance. The good thing about Vance is he is a sophomore so he has three years to play three. He came in during the mid-year to play three.
Have you gone into a season with so many positions that are question marks?
Probably not, it will be very interesting what will happen and how they will respond. Even the coaching staff does not know what is going to happen. We don't know who is going to respond and who is going to become a gamer. You don't know who is going to takeoff. Some guys might play a little bit or perform at a lower level than the way they practiced and some guys will perform at a higher level than in practice. We just don't know who those guys are yet. It is going to exciting. We ought to improve as time goes on, and two or three games into the season we will better. We will be better as coaches because we will have a better idea of who will play and how much they need to play. We will know better after a game or two.
Do you have a David Pollack?
I hope so. If you are talking about defensive ends, Marcus Howard would not surprise me to play really well. Roderick Battle has worked really hard. Jeremy Lomax and Demarcus Dobbs, and Michael Lemon are guys any of whom could jump up and play great. We have interior defensive linemen where the starters are pretty much set, but I am interested to see what Corvey Irvin will do and very interested to see what Jarius Wynn will do whether it is inside or outside. He has worked both the inside three-technique and as a buck end. Those guys look good in practice and they are getting better daily. It will be fun to watch we have some relatively young corners. C.J. Byrd will start for the first time. Reshad Jones will play and Rennie Curran will play at linebacker and it will be fun to see these guys who have never played before. Right now I will say Brian Mimbs will punt the first punt. Drew Butler will be on the ready. I do not say that because Mimbs has been shaky, but because it is a very close competition. When the competition is that close you begin competing in the ballgame and not so much in practice. Even at quarterback last year, playing in the games defined how we really settled. I think there is some truth to that in the punting game right now.
Will you redshirt Butler if Mimbs punts well?
I do not know that it is that important that Butler redshirts. I think he is a young man that will graduate whether he redshirts or not in that time frame. I think he is very fundamentally sound. If his fundamentals were poor and he was just getting used to getting the ball off on time, becoming a two-step punter, and his drop and technique were off I would say a redshirt would be very valuable for him, but he is very fundamentally sound. I think he will do very well in school, so I do not think it is important to redshirt him.
How realistic was it for you to get Thomas Brown back for the start of this season?
I would not have predicted it and most guys take a while to get used to it. Knowing that it was his senior year, I would not have blamed him if he waited until next year. If he went into his rehab with that type of attitude it would not have surprised me. Even Sean Bailey last year did not feel 100 percent, so we said hey, let's not play him wait until next year. Hopefully we will benefit from that decision as a team and Sean will too. Thomas has been spectacular to say the least in his rehabbing his injury. I had heard rumors all summer long that Thomas looks great. They told me he was doing everything at full speed and I heard it did not even look like he was hurt. When camp rolled around and you got to watch him, I said yesterday, I have seen no sign of a guy that was injured other than he wears a little sleeve on that leg.
Have you seen many guys that have rehabbed and recovered that quickly?
Not off the top of my head. Most people think and nowadays they think people will be ready in six months. He was ready in six months. I always think of it as a year-long injury, but him it is not. He is a tough kid.
What are your thoughts on the senior leadership?
Little by little seniors have come out of the woodwork to lead. I have seen Marcus Howard really begin to set up. Sean Bailey has done a nice job. Kregg Lumpkin is fantastic as is Brandon Coutu. Chester Adams has had a tremendous camp. I have seen the seniors set up one by one and say this is our year and we want something special to happen. We have some juniors too like Jeff Owens who does a tremendous job. I know Matthew Stafford is stepping up into a leadership role. A.J. Bryant has been injured and he does as good a job as anyone, he is busting his tail to get his starting job back or at least into the rotation. That is a good sign for us.
Do you think there will be more injuries with the new kickoff rule?
I think that with more true returns, more opportunities for high speed collisions. I would imagine guys will get banged up more often than normal. We do it in a controlled thud situation in practice. We have been fortunate because you cannot predict what will happen anytime that ball is snapped. The kickoff is pretty volatile especially on game day when you get a bunch of guys selling out their team and they are flying down that field as fast as they can. A couple of guys put a wedge together and somebody tries to blow up the wedge. That is what you say, you have to knock the wedge out to get to the runner and their will be some collisions.
Do you think more people will kick out of bounds as an acceptable alternative?
I do not know. If you are having a hard time covering or a team feels like they have a good return man, I think you might see more people decline. If you kick it out of bounds you don't have to take on the 35, you can make them kick again. You make them move back five yards and kick again. I think people would be more apt to do that.
Will you be more apt to take the ball when you win the toss?
Yeah we will take the ball if we win the coin toss. I think most people do that.
Was there much debate about that?
No not really. I think the question starting coming up at the SEC Coaches meeting. Everyone was being asked that question and everyone said they will take the ball. Coach Spurrier said, "I was right all along."
When you spoke about Butler being in the lead last week in the punter race you said he was more consistent. Did Mimbs suddenly become more consistent?
Mimbs got more consistent and he reduced his takeoff time. That is the time it takes from you hand to your foot. His time has improved there and he has become more consistent. It is as close as when I said Butler is in the lead. To sit here and say Mimbs has locked it down and he will punt every punt all season long or in every game, I am not ready to say that. I am ready to say he will punt the first one in the game and we will see how it goes.
Can you talk about your mentor program with the older kids for the younger guys?
I do not know how it has worked. I called it Brothers Keeper. In the Old Testament with Kane and Able, one brother kills the other brother and God says, "where is your brother?" He goes, "am I my brothers keep?" To me I am saying yes we are our brothers keeper, we are like brothers hopefully and family. I wanted to get the older guys to spend time with the younger guys to help them along through camp, academically, and socially. At first I was thinking seniors with freshmen, but then I realized they would have only one season and then the seniors are off and running. For the most part I put juniors with freshmen and next year I will continue having juniors. I am sure there are some guys who don't know who their guy is. There were some guys who could not make that initial meeting and I explained to them why. I think a high percentage of them know who has who. It is a start and we will continue to cultivate that.
Did you pull names out of a hat or go by position?
Yes, some of it was by position or by personality and what we thought personalities were at that point. Most of it was by position.
Who is the biggest surprise of camp?
A couple of the surprises were true freshmen like Clint Boling. Trinton everyone knew about because he was here all spring, but Clint showed up. When he came to camp we offered him a scholarship he had played tight end the year before and he had not played a snap of offensive line his senior year, and he weighed only 255, maybe. Now he is closer to 280 to 290 and he did what we thought he would do, grow into his body. We he was in camp he was running shuttles and just really looked athletic. We thought if he grows into his frame and keeps his ability to run and change direction we would have something pretty good. He is still not full grown yet as a lineman. Rennie Curran has done an outstanding job as a freshman to put himself in position to play quality snaps. You never know who might do it. Reshad Jones has made some tremendous strides and learned how to work as a Bulldog and focus everyday on every play. He has made some tremendous strides. Those are some of the names that cross my mind. I like what Marcus Howard has doing, but he will be a first time starter. I love his attitude and effort out there. Those are guys that popped into my head. Chester Adams is practicing better than he ever has before. He has a tremendous amount of energy.
What characteristics do you look for in a leader and which of those qualities do you see in Matthew?
Your leader has to be a man of character and a guy that others will look up to and guys will respect. It helps a lot if they get in the game and produce, all though we have had some tremendous leaders who did not play a lot. D.J. Shockley was one of our best leaders before he became a starter. He did not have to prove he was the leader, he was already in that position when he became the starter. He has to be a guy who is dedicated even in the offseason and a guy that truly earns the respect of the coaches, the players, and the fan base by how he presents himself on the field and in the classroom.
Matthew is very close. We do emphasize the senior leadership of the team, which most people do. I think that might keep some guys who are sophomore and juniors from wanting to step up. I do not know if that is the case with Matthew. I do not know his true personality until he is really comfortable in that leadership role it is hard to know how he is. Right now he is a quiet leader. He will say things to players, he is a quiet leader. He is very much of an encourager. He is not a guy who will get onto a guy about dropping a ball, he will never do that. I think that is good. Every once in a while you might try to get everyone's attention. He is very serious about his position and his job and his obligation to the team. I see a lot of great characteristics in Matthew.
Does he have to have all of those things by the time he is a senior?
Fernando is a great leader especially now that we are huddling. When you no-huddle it is hard to get in there. When you have a center who is a senior and a leader that is great for your team. When you have some leadership upfront that is great and takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback. Let's say the quarterback gets sacked one time. The quarterback could comeback and chew everyone out, but sometimes guys will resent that. When you have a senior linemen that says that is not happening again like a Jon Stinchcomb or something like that, it is nice.
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