Q&A WITH GEORGIA COACH MARK RICHT
Georgia coach Mark Richt answered reporters’ questions for a half-hour on Thursday afternoon. The Bulldogs are in the midst of their off-season conditioning program and preparing for the start of spring practice on March 19. Following is raw transcription covering most of what was discussed . . .
Q: There has been talk of rising sophomore Ray Drew moving from outside linebacker to defensive end in the spring. Is that true, and are there some other position changes afoot?
A: The thing about our defense is it’s very versatile. A guy who at one time might be standing up as a linebacker, the next play he’s got his hand on the ground rushing the passer. So the flexibility has been there since Todd came. The bottom line is we’re going to play everybody in any given game or in any given personnel grouping depending on what we’re trying to defend. The versatility of our defense allows that.
“People have also been talking about Malcolm Mitchell. Could he end up playing both ways? Quite frankly, we’re going to experiment with that a little bit. We’re going to see how much he can handle learning some cornerback. So that’s something. People have been talking about Richard Samuel, could he end up playing some fullback reps? There’s a chance of that, too. Again, we have got to make sure we take the entire talent base of our football team and get the best players out there in whatever situations we need them in. If that means a guy playing both ways or two positions on defense or , if that means we have to put the entire starting lineup on offense and defense playing special teams, I don’t care what it is, we have to do whatever we have to do to get the best players on the field. We’ve got to take advantage of everybody’s abilities.”
Q: What are the kicking and punting competitions going to look like in the spring?
A: “First of all, I doubt either of those jobs get finalized before we get to the fall. We’ve got guys that we signed we think have the ability to win those jobs in Marshall Morgan and Collin Barber. Those guys were signed for a reason. We also have Jamie Lindley who has been a kicker but can also punt and has been working on his punting. Adam Erickson is here working. Those guys are the top candidates who will be pushing them. Other guys will get an opportunity as well.”
Q: How do you feel about your secondary with the dismissals of defensive backs Nick Marshall and Chris Sanders and the two-game suspension of Sanders Commings?
A: Well, it’s a lot thinner for sure, right this minute. It affects special teams play as well. Our cornerback position took a hit and our special teams took a hit. Do we have enough of a talent base on this team to still play at the level we expect to play? I still believe we do. We may have to stretch guys a little bit here and there from a learning standpoint and from getting more reps. But most every great player who’s not a quarterback or certain other positions such as offensive line or extra piont in field goal, most of the other guys are going to play some special teams at one time or another. So we’ve got to get all hands on deck. We’re going to make sure everybody understands how crucial they are and how special teams are just as important as playing first down on defense or offense.”
Q: Speaking of Commings, you went ahead and handed him a two-game suspension despite the fact he has yet to appear in court on the domestic violence charges. How did you arrive at that decision and why did you go ahead and make it?
A: “We don’t like anything like that. We’re not going to have that kind of behavior. We don’t condone it. There are always circumstances that some people know or don’t know. I wasn’t there so, certainly, I don’t know exactly for sure what happened. But I got enough information to feel comfortable that he didn’t behave as well as he should and he’s going to have to face the consequences for that. Of course, playing time seems to be what everybody cares about the most. . . . But there’s a greater price that’s being paid than just that. As always, there’s an educational piece to this thing. And when things are done properly with regard to the discipline and the education, we keep loving these guys, too. So, right now he’s living through the consequences of his actions and that’s just the way it happens here at Georgia.”
Q: As for the three players you dismissed, are you leaving the door open for them to possibly return to Georgia?
A: “All I can tell you right now is I want these guys, wherever they’ve landed, to do great where they’re at and still be able to chase their dream of playing major college football and getting a degree and playing pro ball or whatever their goals may be. That’s what I hope for any of our guys if they ever end up being dismissed from our football team. As far as [coming back], I’m not going to sit here and say 100 percent yes or 100 percent no. Right now they’re on this journey in which they’ve got to take care of business. So maybe later on we can talk about the possibility of that. But I’m not really in a position to say.”
Q: How do you feel as far as an eight or nine-game SEC schedule and do you favor the 6-and-2 or 6-1-1 models as far as the 2012 slate goes?
A: “Just speaking for myself, I know our league is a very difficult league. Eight league games are plenty to me to prove you’re a good football team. And when you always play Georgia Tech to go along with that, that’s another one you’ve got to deal with that takes everything you’ve got. So if you go to nine league games and you continue to have Georgia Tech on there, which I’m sure we will; then, on top of that, if you win your division you have to play in the SEC Championship Game; and then if there ever is a day when they play a plus-one, then you have to win that game and play another game; for me, personally, I think eight is enough to prove that you’re a good football team and you deserve to move on.
“As for the format, I know our rival game with Auburn is very important to us. It’d be kind of hard to not have that game, in my opinion, for a lot of reasons. It’s just like people thinking about Texas and Texas A&M not playing. It’s just sad when you lose rival games. So I don’t know anybody who’d be excited about losing one of those rival games.”
Q: Any concerns about your new contract not being complete at this point?
A: “It’s going to happen in due time. I don’t have any anxiety at all. There’s some different language in there. When you re-write a contract there’s just things that everybody’s got to feel comfortable with. So we’re just ironing out all those little things. It’s more just crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s type of stuff. Greg and I have been together on our discussions and everything’s going extremely well. I don’t have any issues at all.
“Sometimes there’s people going to China or going wherever. Everybody’s life is busy. We didn’t really get going much, to be honest with you, until after signing day. So it wasn’t like this has been worked on since December or something like that.”
Q: Will it be strange for you playing Auburn with Brian VanGorder and Willie Martinez now on its coaching staff?
A: “My gosh, I don’t know if it could get much more emotional for our team or our coaching staffs. Every time we play those guys it’s huge to us. We’re always hoping whenever we play that game it’s very meaningful for both teams as far as division championships and that kind of thing. When you know guys real well and you know them and you love them, it probably adds something to it on a personal level.
“When I first got to Georgia and we played Florida State in a bowl game, you get that different sensation as you prepare. But as soon as you get competing, you just want to win the game just like any other game. You just want to win it. The thing about that bowl game was Coach [Bobby] Bowden was a lot more to me than just my boss. Y’all know about our relationship. It was a whole month or whatever it was to prepare. This, of course, will be a normal cycle of being in a grind and preparing. I don’t know if there will be much time to reflect on all that other stuff.”
Q: What’s it mean to have so much of your defensive talent returning for 2012?
A: “Having a majority of our starters coming back and a majority of our defensive players coming back is a big deal. A lot of them are going to be seniors and leaders and there are a lot of guys that have been proven play-makers. So that’s a very good thing for us. First of all, we don’t want to rest on any accomplishments of the past. But I don’t think our coaches will allow it and I don’t think our leaders will allow that.
“The one thing they all want to do a better job of is finish. We could’ve finished better in our last two ballgames as a team, not just defensively. Our defense knows, at the moment of truth, when we’ve got to get a stop, we’ve got to get a stop. Same thing offensively; when we’ve got to score, we’ve got to score. Defensive statistics are good and all that kind of thing, but the bottom line is we all know, whether it’s offense or defense or special teams, some time in the course of a game, somebody’s got to rise up and make a play. So I think everybody feels the need to be ready to rise to the occasion.”
Q: We never got to ask you about the signing day drama surrounding Josh Harvey-Clemons and the letter-of-intent delay. How stressful was that?
A: “The one thing we knew talking to Josh was, in his heart, he wanted to be a Bulldog. There was no doubt about that. Even though it got delayed there a little bit, he never wavered in his thought process. So that was the thing we were talking to him about. The next morning everything got settled and it was fine. But I’m a big fan of Josh and his entire family. I’m a big Woodrow Clemons fan as well.”
Q: Any truth to reports y’all are considering playing Harvey-Clemons at safety?
A: “I don’t think that. We see him more as a linebacker who we hope can stay in the game in the base looks and the nickel looks. Sometimes you’ll put a nickel corner at the Sam linebacker position or you’ll put a safety into that position in certain situations. If you’ve got a guy with his kind of ability, you may not have to take him off the field. That’s where we want to allow him to grow. He’s also got some offensive skills [as a wide receiver] and he may be just the right guy to throw the ball to in the red zone. So whether he can handle all that as a true freshman, I don’t know. But before his career is over we’ll definitely give him an opportunity to do some things offensively as well.”
Q: How are early enrollees Faton Bauta, Mark Beard and Keith Marshall adjusting to college life?
A: “We just got through going over academics and we covered every player as we always do, every player, every class every grade. Talking about the young guys, one of my questions was just to see what kind of attitude and effort and work ethic they’re bringing to the academic realm and our academic people were really pleased with all three of the new guys. They’re just coming in and being about their business and doing really well. With their ability and their work ethic academically, those three guys are going to do very well.”
Q: It appears offensive line is the biggest area of concern heading into spring practice. What’s your assessment?
A: “When you’re replacing three starters you’re always going to have question marks. The question is do you have the talent base on the team to get the job done. And you know what, I’m really encouraged. I’m not going to say we’re going to line up and whip tail on every single down because that’s tough to do in our league. But I’m encouraged because I see these guys work hard, I see them fighting through the off-season conditioning stuff that we’re doing. I see some athleticism. I see some guys who I think can learn and not have assignment busts and things like that.
“If you can get a group of linemen that have got a little toughness about them, have a little athleticism and know what they’re doing and are coordinated and don’t make a lot of mistakes, they’ll do all right. You hear people say get your hat on the guy. If you’re right on you’re assignment and you fight, you’ve got a chance to move the ball. You’ve got a chance to create space in the running game and have time to throw it. So think we’ve got that. We’re trying to determined how many guys will be game ready by the time we get going. There may be as many as eight or nine, in my mind. If they keep progressing, they can line up and play SEC football. That counts the guys we signed as well.”
Q: You were going to reassess special teams play in the offseason. Any plays to the change the coaching set up as far as the division of responsibilities?
A: “We’re not changing who’s doing what. We’re just making sure we’re real comfortable with what we’re doing and we’re comfortable with the personnel we put on these teams and so that we take the time that it takes to be good at it.”
Q: Is it true you’re considering the addition of a “speed specialist” for your strength and conditioning staff?
A: “I think it’s good to have a lot of versatility within your strength team, because it’s more than just getting strong. It’s conditioning. It’s flexibility. It’s speed and quickness. It’s the entirety of your off-season program. What are the things you want to get accomplished? You definitely want to get stronger; you want to get more flexible; you want to get faster; you want to have great agility; and you want to have stamina. And so, you want to have that kind of diversity on your staff.
“And if you work the muscle well and don’t feed it you have problems. That’s why we made the move with Jenn Ketterly last year in nutrition. We think we have really improved that part of the equation. The other part is trying to find time for these guys to get rest and part of that responsibility is theirs, to get to bed. The other part is to manage their day the best that we possibility can with all the academic and athletic and traning room and community service responsibilities. Whatever these guys do, we’ve got to help them manage their days and rest time.”