Let’s get straight to some of this week’s Junkyard Mail. …
KennyDawg writes: Bill, I enjoy your balance of devout fandom and evenhanded criticism when it comes to our beloved Dawgs. Coming off this past season, I’m naturally disappointed with the record and who we lost to, but I’m mindful that few teams could have done better suffering the string of injuries we had, and I’m proud of the big wins that the team came up with (South Carolina, LSU, Florida, Tech!). Looking ahead, I’m of course concerned with the need for rapid improvement on the part of our secondary but hopeful that Jeremy Pruitt will turn that around. So the D is not my biggest worry. I’m concerned about whether (Mark) Richt will finally get serious about fixing our stinking special teams!!! Marshall Morgan did great last season and the punting was OK (when they weren’t blocked). Our kickoff coverage was mostly solid, except when it wasn’t, but I’m like Kevin Butler in that I can’t believe we can’t find a guy at UGA who can consistently put the ball in the end zone for a touchback, which makes any coverage issues moot. And when it comes to receiving punts, not only are we too worried about the fake to bother setting up a return, but the guys we’ve put back there to field the ball don’t seem to know what they’re doing. If anything about our special teams points to the lack of proper coaching, it’s right there. So that’s my big worry, Bill, that on special teams we’ll continue to turn the ball over and give the other guys easy points while forsaking the chance to make a big play ourselves. How about you?
Kenny, I think you did a fine job of summing up the disaster that has been special teams at Georgia over the past couple of seasons. And, yes, that’s probably my biggest concern looking ahead at the 2014 season. But I have a few lesser concerns, too. I worry about the personnel turnover on what was already an inconsistent offensive line, and whether they’ll allow too much pressure on relatively untested quarterback Hutson Mason in those crucial early-season games. And while, like you, I’m hopeful that Pruitt will be able to turn things around with the Dogs’ defensive backs, that will still be a concern until we see some on-field progress. The rest of the defense was pretty good last year; I’m just hopeful the coaching changes won’t disrupt that. On the other hand, to balance things out, I generally feel really good about Mike Bobo’s offense, barring another bout with the injury bug, especially the running backs and receivers. Even if Mason starts out shaky, I think Todd Gurley, Michael Bennett and company will raise him up.
Ed Teller writes: Bill, I’m curious about the apparent shift in Mark Richt’s philosophy shown by his two defensive hires so far in Jeremy Pruitt and Kevin Sherrer, both of whom are not that far removed from coaching Alabama high school ball. That’s quite a switch from our previous reliance on former NFL assistants, don’t you think?
It is, Ed, but I can see the logic. One of the knocks on Todd Grantham was that he appeared to not know how to develop kids arriving out of high school because he was used to dealing with veteran professionals. That NFL mindset also showed in his reluctance to rotate players as frequently as some other college coaches do, which not only resulted in defenders tiring out, but a lot of inexperience on the depth chart. Hiring coaches who understand high school players seems to have worked pretty well for Nick Saban, so I’d say it’s worth a try.
Phil writes with a question several others also asked: Have you heard any buzz about candidates for the coaching vacancies?
Not a lot of reliable buzz so far, Phil. Pruitt’s first order of business was to hit the recruiting trail. Plus, there was a lot of speculation that Georgia waited to see what Florida State would do after his departure and whether he might be able to bring some key defensive staffers with him. That appears to have been settled this week when FSU promoted linebackers coach Charles Kelly to defensive coordinator, replacing Pruitt, and promoted defensive line coach Sal Sunseri to associate head coach. One name that has surfaced is former Auburn player and coach Tracy Rocker, most recently the DL coach for the Tennessee Titans. When Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph asked Rocker this week if there was anything to rumors of him joining Georgia’s staff, Rocker replied, “Not yet.” Actually, though, there’s not a big rush here to fill out the defensive staff, despite the impending signing day, thanks to Pruitt’s prowess as a recruiter.
SATURDAY UPDATE: Georgia has hired Tracy Rocker, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and an Atlanta native, as its defensive line coach, according to multiple reports. Rocker told Macon.com that he had accepted the job and said, “I’ll be down there early next week.” Fox Sports first reported the hire.
Jenny Bowen writes: Bill, love the Blawg! While we try to stay warm waiting for signing day, my friends and I have been talking about what new wrinkle we’d like to see in the 2014 Dawgs. Mine is more blitzing. I’d like to see a defense that blitzes, or threatens to blitz, just about every play. I think that might be an especially good tactic for disrupting those read-option spreads like All-barn runs! Bill, what surprise would you like to see?
I’d also like to see more blitzing, Jenny, but my suggested new wrinkle would be on offense. Bobo has been working some elements of the spread into his offense over the past three seasons and I’d like to see more of that. Along those lines, I’d like to see Bobo come up with more creative ways to use backup quarterback Faton Bauta than simply inserting him to run a predictable wildcat-type QB keeper like he briefly tried in the bowl game. That’s like holding up a sign saying, “Hey, we’re inserting our RUNNING quarterback on this play!” From all reports, Bauta has a really strong arm and I’d love to see him inserted for what is expected to be a run and instead chunk the seed deep downfield to a wide-open receiver. There’s nothing like confounding expectations!
Aaron in Arizona writes: Bill, I think you are dead wrong about changing the schedule due to possible suspensions!!!!!! By doing that, one would actually be encouraging bad behavior on the part of the players because they know they can screw up and most likely not hurt the team by missing “lesser competitive” games. The schedule should not change cause of stupid personal decisions. That’s like the tail wagging the dog. But what about these players that do drugs? There are suspensions but is there some type of rehab/counseling they go through? We “regular” folks would usually lose our job and have jail time if caught with drugs!!! Seems these players don’t pay the same price, whichever school being attended. Doesn’t seem the NCAA cares too much about this either. Anyway, GOOO DAWGS!!
Good thing exclamation points don’t cost anything, Aaron. I frankly doubt that opening with a cupcake is going to encourage players to go out and get suspended. And, to me, it deals with reality: As long as Georgia has tougher disciplinary policies and punishments than other schools, the Dawgs are likely to enter each season with at least a couple of players sitting out. Better for that to be against the likes of Troy than against a team like Clemson. As for how UGA deals with players who’ve broken the anti-drug policy, after Justin Scott-Wesley’s suspension was announced, Richt said, “We will discipline him according to our policy. We will also educate him, provide him counsel so he can learn from this, and be able to move forward in a very positive direction.” So I’d say the Georgia staff isn’t just punishing those who break the rules, they’re trying to educate them on the issues involved as well.
I’ll answer more Junkyard Mail next week, so let me know what is on your mind concerning UGA athletics or if you have a question you want me to tackle. Just email me at email@example.com.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg