Mark Richt told a packed ballroom at the Athens Country Club Tuesday night that Caleb King probably won’t make the trip to Stillwater, Kiante Tripp also looks doubtful, Logan Gray will get in the OSU game as a quarterback, and he’s concerned what effect practicing in cool weather the past couple of days will have on his team in the Oklahoma heat on Saturday.
When featured speaker Richt was introduced at the season’s first meeting of the Touchdown Club of Athens, the crowd of several hundred gave him a standing ovation. He joked, “I want to see if my Dad stood up.” (His father, seated at the table next to my brother Tim and me, did indeed stand for his son.)
Club President Mixon Robinson, a former Georgia player, earlier had alluded to this year’s Bulldogs being a much easier team to like than last year’s underachieving star-studded group, and Richt himself noted that, “I’ve enjoyed from January to today probably more than any year I’ve been coaching.”
With a nod to Vince Dooley, who was in attendance, Rich added: “I want to thank Coach Dooley one more time for giving me the opportunity to be at Georgia.”
Richt noted how hard the players worked in drills this summer, while still managing to achieve a team GPA of better than 3.0, and said it apparently was “the best summer our guys have ever had.” In the closest he came to criticizing last year’s Dogs, Richt added: “I think the players were a little bit fed up with some of the things that kept us from being champions last year. … I don’t have any idea what the potential of this team is, but I am excited about them.”
Richt gave a very Dooleyesque rundown of Oklahhoma State’s offensive prowess. After mentioning how good Cowboys kick returner Perrish Cox is, Richt noted with a touch of sarcasm directed at those of us who’ve criticized his special teams, “All you guys that are worried about the [Georgia] kickoff team can get even more worried now.”
He did say, however, that “our coverage team should be better” than last year, when injuries depleted the talent available for special teams play. “We have better runners and hitters.” As for who will kick off, Blair Walsh or Brandon Bogotay, Richt said he honestly is “not sure … it’s just such a close competition.”
Summing up his own team, Richt seemed most confident about the offensive line, linebackers and fullbacks. And, he said, “I think we’ll be much more pleased” with the tight end play than last year. He also expects his defense to get more turnovers than last season because “we’ve got a bunch of guys back there who can catch the ball.”
Discussing his running backs, Richt said, “I feel very confident in Richard Samuel. He’s fast and he’s strong. He does run a little more upright than I would like, but that’s his style.” On Caleb King, still not back to full speed after a hamstring injury, Richt said, “He probably will not travel” to the OSU game, though a final decision had not been made.
In answer to a question from the audience about whether he had signed a back who would show up Knowshon Moreno, Richt said, “I wouldn’t bank on that. Knowshon was a very special cat.” He said watching film from last year made him appreciate even more the amazing things Moreno did. But even without Moreno, he said, “I think we can be as productive [at running back as last season] because we’ll block better.” Speaking of blocking, he added that in the past couple of days the tailbacks themselves had spent “a lot of time on blitz pickups.”
Richt said he assumed the questioner was talking about Washaun Ealey, and the head coach drew an inadvertent laugh from the crowd when he noted that when Ealey arrived in camp “He really looked good in shorts.” Chuckling, Richt amended that to say Ealey looked good in noncontact drills. But he said that Ealey’s hyperextended elbow had kept him from going full speed “for about 10 practices,” and hurt his progress. He added, “Just in the last couple of days he’s perked up again.” Richt noted he’d told Ealey not to assume he was headed for a redshirt and if he keeps working hard “you could be the starter by the third game.”
As for quarterback, he repeated his frequent praise of Joe Cox’s leadership and hard work. “Joe’s the guy,” he said. “Joe understands he doesn’t have to be the hero. He has to manage the game.” Also, Richt said, “We’re going to see Logan [Gray] some” in the OSU game. “He will get in the game as a quarterback.” He said Gray also will play safety on short punts, either making a fair catch or letting it roll.
At receiver, he said, “We’re very thin. … We’re in a situation where we must stay healthy.” He said the two freshmen, Rantavious Wooten and Marlon Brown, will play. “They have to play.”
Richt said he thinks the Dogs will have a better pass rush from the defensive ends, though he noted that Kiante Tripp, one of the backups, has “had a stinger and may not make the trip” to Stillwater. Talking about true freshman Montez Robinson, Richt said, “Skill-wise, his potential is pretty much off the chart. But first he’s got to learn how to do it.”
The coach thinks defensive line play from the likes of Jeff Owens, Geno Atkins, Kade Weston and DeAngelo Tyson will help with the pass rush by “pushing the pocket back in the quarterback’s face,” even if they don’t get sacks. He said he originally had thought all the freshman defensive linemen probably would redshirt, but Abry Jones is “coming on strong. I think he can help us before the season is over.”
He thinks safety play will benefit from the injuries in the preseason that meant some of the younger players got more reps in practice with the first unit. But, he said, “We’re a little bit thin at the corners,” with only Prince Miller, Brandon Boykin, Vance Cuff and Branden Smith. “We might have to make some moves” like possibly shifting Sanders Commings back from safety.
Richt also said, “I’m not thrilled at the weather the last few days. It’s been little too cool. That concerns me a little bit” since it will be much hotter in Oklahoma. “We’re in as good a condition as we can be, considering the cool weather. But we will have to substitute” frequently and early.