Columbus -– Caught up with Mark Richt’s speaking tour Thursday night. His visit with the Columbus Bulldog Club was interesting and lively.
He expressed some serious reservations about long road trips, such as Georgia’s to Arizona State last fall. He scoffed at the notion that Jacksonville is a neutral site for the Georgia-Florida game. And he quantified the extent to which the Georgia players see Joe Cox as the team’s leader.
Here’s Richt, responding to questions from the gathering:
On Cox’s leadership: “We had exit meetings where one of the things we asked the players on their exit-meeting sheet, I guess, was: Who do you think are the leaders of this football team? I think it was 110 guys who wrote down different names. And 107 times, Joe got his name mentioned. . . . So here’s a guy voted the No. 1 leader on the team who really hasn’t started a game in three years and only started one in his whole career.”
On how the team is recovering from last year’s injury epidemic: “I think in about two or three weeks, about 95 percent of our football team will be ready to rock and roll.”
On DT Jeff Owens’ comeback from knee surgery: “Jeffrey looks wonderful. I think he’s trimmer today than the day he got hurt. He really got serious about getting in the best shape he could. That’s hard to do when you’re rehabbing a knee.”
On whether the Georgia-Florida game should be played in Georgia sometimes: “I don’t know what’s going to happen. But when people ask me the question, ‘Do you really think [Jacksonville] is a neutral site?’, I say, ‘No, it’s not neutral.’ When you play in the state of Florida every year –- we fly, they drive; it’s hotter for us, it’s cooler for them. It’s played in a stadium that [used to be called] the Gator Bowl. But what the heck? If nothing else, we’ll make Jacksonville pay more to keep it there. . . . I wouldn’t feel bad having a ‘neutral site’ game in Georgia – in the Georgia Dome.”
On who’ll start at tight end: “Right now, I would say Aron White. Aron had a great spring. He did drop a ball or two in the spring game, but he did not drop many balls all spring long. And since he’s been here, he has had really good hands. Maybe the big [G-Day] crowd got him, I don’t know, but I’m glad he got it out of his system.”
On long road trips, such as last year’s to Arizona State, this year’s to Oklahoma State and next year’s to Colorado: “What we learned is, it’s tough travel. That Arizona State game was just prior to the Alabama game. I’m not making excuses, but . . . I saw Stafford and Moreno laying there [on the flight home] trying to get some sleep, flying through the night. It’s just tough travel. I don’t know if we really want to do a whole lot more of that.”
On Oklahoma State, this year’s opening opponent: “I think they’re going to look at that as one of the biggest games in the history of their football program, so we better get ready.”
On Georgia’s new basketball coaching staff: “Those guys are class people. . . . I like their approach already. They’re not making some wild promises. They understand it’s going to take work. And just hearing how they go about preparing players — in all, I just see really good things from that staff.”
(Richt told me before the meeting that the two most common questions he’s gotten on the Bulldog Club tour — last night was stop No. 6 — have been about the tailbacks and the defensive ends. Sure enough, he got them again. His answers, somewhat condensed:)
On the tailback position, post-Moreno: “We’ve been averaging a little bit over 2,000 yards a season rushing. Some years, it’s been [one guy] getting most of it. Some years, it’s been by committee. … You know what, I don’t really care if it’s one guy or two guys or three guys. I think whoever is running the ball is going to benefit from a more mature line than we’ve had in quite some time. … Right now, no one has really separated themselves [at tailback]. Caleb [King], I would say, would still be the No. 1 guy going into camp, but by the first game someone else may win that job. I don’t know.”
And on the defensive ends: “We just need to get them healthy. [Roderick] Battle, I think, can play well for us. [Demarcus] Dobbs can play well. [Justin] Houston is coming along. We’ve got a kid, Cornelius Washington, who has been hurt ever since he got here, but the kid is long, he’s lean, he’s fast and he’s very talented. We’ll see how he does. . . . And we got some Sam linebackers — [Darryl] Gamble, [Marcus] Washington, [Darius] Dewberry –- who leave the game when we get into our nickel defense and tend to be in more of a pass-rushing mode. So what we want is to use those Sam linebackers to rush the pass, too, because they are a little bit more athletic, a little more agile, faster by nature. They don’t hold up against the run as well, but you don’t see as much run on third-and-long.”
Around Bulldog Nation: Stacey Palmore, a Virginia Tech assistant basketball coach, told the Roanoke Times that he’ll be joining new Georgia coach Mark Fox’s staff. Palmore said Fox pursued him because of his recruiting contacts in Georgia. . . . Fox got tied up on some recruiting business, so assistant Kwanza Johnson filled in for him at the Bulldog Club meeting in Columbus. . . . Georgia’s softball team lost to Kentucky 2-0 in the opening game of the single-elimination SEC tournament Thursday in Knoxville. . . . Lots of action in Athens this weekend: NCAA men’s and women’s tennis first- and second-round matches at the Dan Magill Complex and, next door at Foley Field, the baseball team’s final home series of the regular season. Here’s a story on two very impressive streaks the men’s tennis team is seeking to extend.