Depth problems always raise the question of just how much full-contact hitting is wise in practice, an issue exacerbated by scholarship limits. It’s a question Mark Richt has gone back and forth on in the past, and now he faces the dilemma anew.
In a teleconference Richt and his coordinators held Wednesday with reporters it was revealed that the first half of spring practice will see tailback Keith Marshall sitting out with a hamstring injury suffered earlier this month running track for UGA. With “Boo” Malcome gone and signees A.J. Turman and Brendan Douglas not due in Athens until summer, that leaves starter Todd Gurley as the only scholarship tailback. The rest of the backs are walk-ons.
While Marshall should return for the portion of spring drills after the school’s spring break, Mike Bobo acknowledged that the situation is somewhat precarious. Should the Georgia coaching staff allow full-contact tackling of Gurley, or of Marshall after he returns?
“That’s something we’re going to have to talk about as a staff and hash out, how much contact we truly give those guys, because depth really is a concern there,” Bobo said.
The offensive coordinator plans on giving wide receiver J.J. Green a try as “a scatback-type guy” and there’s also probable receiver Tramel Terry, though he’s still recovering from an ACL injury.
“It’s going to be a touchy situation here in spring ball,” Bobo noted. “We like to compete in practice but we can’t let our competitive juices get too much where we want to win every drill and wear Todd Gurley out at the same time, so we’ve got to be smart about it as coaches. We’ve still got to get work out of them, too, so it’s a fine line.”
While on the surface it might seem a no-brainer to simply tell the defenders to take it easy on the scholarship backs, or even put them in noncontact jerseys, there’s a definite downside to that approach, as Richt has discovered in the past.
Back in 2008, injury concerns prompted the Georgia head coach to cut back on tackling in practice, going to “thud” stops rather than tackles to the ground. It was a move Richt later lamented and reversed during bowl preparations after the lack of contact seemed to erode fundamentals and take an edge of his players’ performance.
The lack of full-contact work in practice was blamed in particular for the poor tackling by Dogs defenders late in that season that saw Georgia Tech notch a rare victory in Athens.
“When you look back and say why didn’t we tackle well, why didn’t we do this or that better? Well, we didn’t practice like we usually do, trying to keep another guy from going down,” Richt said at the time.
So, what should Richt and his staff do this spring about the tailbacks? If they try to protect them from possible injury, it might make the practices less effective for both the backs and Georgia’s defenders. But if it’s full-contact all the way, they run the risk of further depleting the tailback corps.
What would you do if you were Richt and Bobo?
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