THE TEN AT 10:
1. Georgia coach Mark Richt, speaking at a UGA Alumni Association event in Gainesville on Tuesday, reiterated that true freshman Isaiah Crowell will likely be a big part of the Bulldogs’ running game this season. But he also cautioned that Crowell will have to compete with Caleb King and the other tailbacks and that his ability to master pass protection would dictate how much he’s able to play.
“Backs have responsibility to protect on certain blitzes,” Richt said. “If one guy doesn’t know how to do it, he’s a liability at that moment. Can you turn and hand the guy the ball or toss it to him on a sweep or throw him a screen? You can do all those things and he doesn’t have to block anybody. But to constantly pull him in and out of the game every time you’re going to throw the ball with a six- or seven-man protection, you have to give the defense some credit, too. They’re going to know what’s going on or have a pretty good understanding. And when a rookie back is in the game, they’re going to test that. They’re going to bring pressure and see if they’ can pick it up.
“He has to learn that if he wants to be a full-time back. He’s got to.”
That said, Richt said that he’s confident in Crowell’s ability to run the football effectively at the SEC level. “That’s why we recruited him.”
2. Blocking in general is now of paramount concern after this week’s news that A.J. Harmon is leaving the program for “personal reasons.” The 6-foot-5, 320-pound junior was competing for the starting job at right tackle during spring practice. His departure leaves the Bulldogs perilously thin on the offensive front. They presently have only eight returning linemen heading into the summer and three of those aren’t healthy at the moment — Brent Benedict (knee), Austin Long (back/pectoral muscle) and Dallas Lee (respiratory problems).
Nor surprisingly, Richt said that offensive line will once again be a recruiting priority in 2012. The Bulldogs are already bringing in five linemen in this year’s class, six if you include long snapper Nathan Theus. Richt said they’d probably sign at least that many this year.
“I’d imagine we’ll sign at least five or six,” Richt said.
Georgia currently has extended offers to seven prospects, including five-star tackles John Theus of Jacksonville, Avery Young of Palm Beach Gardens and D.J. Humphries of Charlotte. More than likely they’ll have to bring in at least one or two junior college linemen as they are slated to have no senior linemen for 2012.
3. Georgia’s 9-4 win over Kennesaw State in baseball Tuesday night was just what the doctor ordered. The Diamond Dogs (27-26) led 9-0 through six innings in that game and were able to play for once without angst.
Now their entire season is on the line in a humongous, mega-colossal, three-game series against Vanderbilt, which starts Thursday night. The Commodores (42-8) are ranked No. 1 in at least one of the many college baseball polls and Georgia could only enhance its increasingly shaky NCAA resume by winning the series or, better yet, pulling off an unlikely sweep.
“We’ve got a shot and we’ve got to do something special this weekend,” coach David Perno told reporters after the Kennesaw game. “We needed a win tonight and we got it, although Kennesaw helped us a bit. It’s been a while since someone played poorly against us.”
On his postgame radio show, Perno urged Georgia fans to come out strong in support of the team Thursday night. The game is being televised by ESPNU as its SEC Game of the Week. First pitch is set for 7:30 p.m.
4. Georgia coach Mark Fox and his staff entertained basketball prospect Ryan Harrow in Athens on Tuesday. Harrow, a 6-1 point guard from Marietta, is seeking a transfer from N.C. State after playing at the ACC school as a freshman. He was spotted having lunch with Fox at a Longhorn’s restaurant Tuesday afternoon. Fox canceled a scheduled speaking engagement in Gainesville Tuesday evening to remain in Athens with Harrow and his mother. Assistant coach Kwanza Johnson filled in for Fox at the UGA Alumni Day function at the Gainesville Civic Center.
Harrow is taking a barnstorm tour of visits this week. He has already been to Kentucky, Louisville and Texas in addition to UGA and will visit St. John’s later this week before making a decision. Harrow averaged 9.3 points and 3.3 assists off the bench for the Wolfpack last season. He decided to leave after coach Sidney Lowe was fired a replaced by former Alabama coach Mark Gottfried. He will have to sit out next season per NCAA transfer rules. Harrow averaged 31 points per game as a senior at Walton High.
Should Harrow choose Georgia his timing would be ideal. The Bulldogs will lose starting guards Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware to graduation after this season.
The Bulldogs are still actively recruiting at least two players in Harrow and Rockdale County’s Kevin Ware, a former Tennessee signee.
“The way our sport goes, you never know what you’re going to need in the spring,” Johnson said. “You may plan two classes out, but it never works out exactly how you think it’s going to. This is probably a little bit late to still be recruiting. But at the same time we had a unique situation with both Jeremy [Price] and Chris [Barnes] graduating and Trey [Thompkins] and Travis [Leslie] leaving for the NBA.”
5. One player that could help Fox’s Hounds immediately is Nick Marshall. A football signee out of Wilcox County, Richt said Tuesday the plan is still to allow the 6-foot-2 Marshall to play both football and basketball at Georgia. But, he added, that comes with conditions.
“When it’s a two-sport athlete, he has to be doing well academically,” Richt said. “We’ll have to help him through it. We’ll have to help him manage his time. Charlie Ward did it when I was at Florida State. But he redshirted that first year before he started playing basketball. It’s not easy, but it can be done.”
Marshall averaged 28 points per game as guard at Wilcox County. He was an all-state quarterback in high school but is expected to start off at defensive back for the Bulldogs.
6. Richt was asked again by a Gainesville reporter about the testy exchange he had with fan at a Bulldog Club stop in Macon last month. The man was critical of the Bulldogs’ offensive philosophies and assistant coaches and the normally-reserved and always-chaste Richt surprised a lot of people after he shot back, “I know what the hell I’m doing, OK.”
“It’s been publicized that I got on a guy about what he was asking, but even then we hugged at the end and it was fine,” Richt said Tuesday. “He just wanted to give his opinion and I wanted to let him know I was there. It wasn’t really that big of a deal, but that’s really the only time it has gotten a little testy. I appreciated the guy’s passion for his team and the program. I just wanted to let him know I’ve been doing it a long time and still know what I’m doing.”
Richt told the reporter he continues to be well received on his weekly jaunts across the state to speak.
“Everybody’s excited,” said Richt, who will be in Dalton on Thursday and Albany next week. “They’re excited about the football team and they want to hear about the recruiting class. It’s been very good.
7. I also ran into football signee Sterling Bailey and his parents at the Gainesville function. Bailey, an outside linebacker from East Hall, is way ahead of schedule in rehabilitating his right shoulder, which he had surgically repaired earlier this year. Bailey was also recently recognized with for a Senior Leadership Award at his high school graduation.
8. I’ve been kind of slow to get on this story but the Bulldogs have a chance to pull off a pretty magical two-for-one recruiting coup here in the late spring. Grayson linebacker/running back Denzel Nkemdiche ended up meeting freshman eligibility requirements recently. That means he will be able to sign with a school in 2011 instead attending junior college, as was originally planned.
What makes that significant is Nkemdiche’s “little brother,” rising junior Robert Nkemdiche, is the state’s No. 1-rated prospect for 2013 and has said in no uncertain terms he plans to attend the same school as his older brother. Denzel confirmed to me in an email that he visited Ole Miss on Tuesday and plans to check out Georgia this weekend and will likely sign with one of the two.
I’m supposed to talk to Denzel later today so I hope to file a full report soon thereafter. Meanwhile, let me add that, as a color commentator for WSB-TV’s Friday Sports Zone Game of the Week last fall, I got to see Denzel play live and on videotape and he is legitimate FBS prospect in his own right. But, playing last year as a sophomore in the state’s highest football classification, Robert is one of the most dominant defensive linemen I’ve seen in a long time.
9. For the second consecutive year, Georgia’s women’s basketball and men’s golf teams were recognized by the NCAA for being in the top 10 percent nationally in the multi-year Academic Progress Rate (APR) of all programs in their sport. The NCAA annually honors programs which rank among the nation’s top-10 percent covering their latest multiyear APR, which covers a four-year span. The men’s golf program earned a perfect 1000 for the years 2006-07 through 2009-10, while the women’s basketball program scored 995.
“This is a very special achievement for these two programs and we salute their outstanding efforts,” said Ted White, UGA’s director of student-athlete academic services. “Our coaches and student-athletes value the hard work and dedication it takes to excel, both in the classroom and in their sports.”
10. THIS & THAT: Hope you saw my report on Georgia letterman Jake Scott (1966-68) receiving his long past due selection into the College Football Hall of Fame. . . . It’s a huge week for Georgia’s spring sports teams as the men’s and women’s tennis teams land in Palo Alto, Calif., for the NCAA Championships, No. 1-ranked Marta Silva Zamora competes in the NCAA Championships in College Station, Texas; the men’s golf team tries to advance out of a west regional in Colorado, and the No. 6 seeded Lady Bulldogs’ softball team plays host for the NCAA Athens Regional, which will include FSU, Georgia State and UAB.