Georgia begins practice eyeing title run

Bulldogs Pray

Bulldogs Pray

Athens — The forecast calls for 97-degree temperatures on Monday and the humidity is supposed to be somewhere in the 60-percent range and Matthew Stafford can’t wait to put a jersey on and run around outside in it.

Preseason football practices — or camp, as coaches like to call it — gets under way Monday afternoon for the No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs and, in the eyes of the players, that’s a lot better than what they’ve been doing to date.

 
 
 
 

“We’re excited and ready,” said Stafford, a junior who returns to start at quarterback for the third consecutive season. “The offseason is kind of a long process, with mat drills and spring practice and summer workouts. But that’s all working up to this point. It’s going to be hot out there. We all know it. But it’s helps you get mentally tough and we’re looking forward to getting as good as we can get.”

By all accounts, that’s expected to be pretty good. This past Friday the Bulldogs, who finished last season ranked No. 2, were picked No. 1 in the USA Today/Coaches poll. The Associated Press poll won’t come out until the middle of the month but, if it’s anything like the dozens of preseason magazines and Web sites that came out with rankings this summer, Georgia will be at least a Top 5 team.

That can be a very good thing if handled right, coach Mark Richt said.

“If you use it as motivation,” Richt said. “The process is what’s important. How you go about your business is important. That’s what we have to focus on to be in position to win anything.”

Here are some issues Georgia will have to address as it prepares to kick off the 2008 season against Georgia Southern at 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 30 at Sanford Stadium.

 

Will offseason discipline problems be manifested on field?

Georgia has had eight players arrested since its Sugar Bowl victory over Hawaii this past January. That makes it one of the worst offseasons in that regard since Richt took over in 2001.

It already has had an impact on the team in that five players will miss games. One player was dismissed from the team, two others are indefinitely suspended and two more will sit out a total of three games.

But it also has affected the team in other ways. Even though the majority of the team is doing the right things, the negative publicity has created a perception that the Bulldogs have a lot of players of questionable character. The question now is whether the lack of discipline off the field will translate into issues on the field.

Identifying a dependable place-kicker to replace Coutu

At Georgia, it’s taken for granted that the Bulldogs will have a scoring machine at placekicker. That certainly was the case with Brandon Coutu, who never missed a PAT, made a school-record 80 percent of his field goal attempts and scored 273 points in his career.

The Bulldogs recruited highly touted kicker Blair Walsh from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to fill those shoes. But that’s a tall order for a freshman against a tough schedule in which several games could be decided by field goals. And other than Walsh, the Dogs would have to turn to Brian Mimbs or Drew Butler, punting specialists who have never attempted a placement kick in a college game.

Losing their best snapper, Jeff Henson, was no small thing for the Bulldogs either.

Stafford must show improvement and assume leadership

Stafford remains high on NFL draft boards and is nicknamed “The Truth” because he has all the tools to be the best quarterback in the country. But he has to throw the football with more accuracy than he has to date. Coach Mike Bobo wants to see Stafford’s career 54.5 completion percentage rise into the 60s and his interceptions continue to decrease into single digits.

Meanwhile, Stafford relinquished a leadership role to veterans such as Thomas Brown and Fernando Velasco the last two seasons but must grab the reins in his third season as a starter. So far he’s talking the part.

“Being the leader of this team I believe it’s my responsibility to get the guys ready,” he said. “Here in practice is the best time to do it. You’re not going to show up on the 30th and be ready to play without putting some time and effort into it. That’s what you do now.”

 

Settle on a lineup on the offensive front

Most observers are counting offensive line as a strength for the Bulldogs in 2008 and they definitely have accrued a lot of young talent up front. Three freshmen held down starting spots last season and rookies also held down the majority of backup positions. But only two players are slated to start in the same positions they played last season and the loss of center Velasco —and tackle Chester Adams to a lesser extent — can’t be over emphasized. Settling on a rotation and having them jell in camp is a must.

“We lost some guys, some guys are moving. It’s hard to tell what we’ll look like,” Stafford said. “We’ve got an idea of who the seven or eight guys will be battling to be in the five and it will be determined out there on the practice field. But I’m confident in them. I know Trinton [Sturdivant’s] going to be my left tackle and I know Chris Davis is going to be in there somewhere. I know everybody out there can play. I think we’re going to be fine.”

 

Find a big-play receiver and determine a rotation

If nothing else, Georgia has a lot of wide receivers to choose from — at least a dozen — and there is a wealth of talent and experience led by senior Mohamed Massaquoi. But the Bulldogs have to find a replacement for Sean Bailey, their leading receiver last season and biggest deep threat. Seniors Kenneth Harris and Demiko Goodman will be given first shot to that end. But Georgia inked one of the top receiver prospects in America in A.J. Green and early enrollee Tavarres King wowed coaches and teammates over the spring and summer and several underclassmen are gunning for the job.

 

Find a speed rusher and develop some depth at D-end

There’s very little missing from the Dogs’ defense this season but they will surely miss Sugar Bowl MVP and NFL draft pick Marcus Howard at defensive end.

The good news is Georgia returns junior Rod Battle, who started all 13 games opposite Howard last season, and seniors Jeremy Lomax and Jarius Wynn played a lot the last season. And the Bulldogs have recruited vigorously at the position the past couple of years. Redshirt freshmen such as Neland Ball and Justin Houston and redshirt sophomore Demarcus Dobbs will get their opportunity to step up.

– Courtesy of AJC.com

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