(Updated 8:15 p.m.)
ATHENS – Georgia coach Mark Richt thinks his team’s two most improved players since the spring might be safety Shawn Williams and linebacker Darryl Gamble.
You’d expect a sophomore, like Williams, to be making major strides at this point. But Gamble’s progress is particularly noteworthy since he’s a fifth-year senior who started 11 games last season and switched positions in the final week of spring practice, shifting from inside linebacker to outside.
Gamble credits the influence of defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach Todd Grantham.
“I guess it’s like finding love for the game again because I was in a slump,” said Gamble, adding that he and former linebackers coach John Jancek “didn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. Having Coach Grantham here just gives me an extra boost of energy.”
Grantham has said Gamble is pushing Cornelius Washington for a starting spot at outside linebacker.
“I’ve never had a complete year; I’ve always had little sparks here and there,” Gamble said of his UGA career. “I’m just trying to have a complete season with making plays every game.”
Richt said Gamble reported to preseason practice in great physical condition and has been “highly productive” on the practice field.
“I think he’s really been sincere about wanting to be a leader, wanting to have a great senior year,” Richt said. “I think it’s just maturity -– a guy growing up, saying, ‘You know what? I want to be special. I want to reach my potential. Show me how.’”
Gray, Mason impress
Georgia is roughly halfway through preseason practice, having held its 14th of 29 allotted practices Tuesday.
“I told [the players] that from what I’ve seen, I think we can have a pretty good team,” Richt said. “But we have to keep progressing from this point forward.”
At Tuesday’s closed practice, Richt said quarterback-turned-receiver Logan Gray “made a beautiful catch on a deep post route. It was an outstanding throw but tight coverage, and he came down with that thing. . . . He’s really beginning to look like a pretty polished receiver.”
Gray won’t start at receiver, but “he’ll play,” Richt said.
The coaches reserve the option of returning Gray to quarterback in the event of an injury to starter Aaron Murray, but Richt said he and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo are “quickly gaining” confidence in freshman Hutson Mason as a potential No. 2 QB.
“I can see [Mason] doing that before this season is over and maybe even by Game 1,” Richt said. “He has progressed very well.”
Richt said offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant will be ready to play in the Sept. 4 opener against Louisiana-Lafayette, although “we don’t expect him to play an entire ballgame.” Sturdivant missed almost all of the past two seasons with knee injuries. . . . Offensive lineman Josh Davis returned to practice Tuesday after suffering a minor ankle injury Saturday. . . . Georgia plans to redshirt freshman offensive lineman Brent Benedict, Richt said. Benedict had knee surgery last fall. . . . Cornerback/kick returner Brandon Boykin was named Tuesday to the preseason watch list for the inaugural Paul Hornung Award, which will honor college football’s “most versatile player.”
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