Georgia faces questions aplenty

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

MACON -- Georgia coach Mark Richt wants a defense that's flying all over the field and a quarterback who is not flying too high.

That's Richt's wish list in early June for a team of Dogs who need to learn a lot of new tricks between now and their opener Sept. 4.

The clock is already ticking because so much is new, including a new defensive coordinator who is changing the scheme from the 4-3 to the 3-4, and a quarterback who has never taken a snap in a college game.

No problem. It's summer -- and optimism is everywhere.

Richt likes both the scheme, and his new QB, and believes redshirt signal-caller Aaron Murray will have time to develop as long as he doesn't try to do too much, too soon, and even pointed out Tuesday that Murray has had more time to prepare for his first start at Georgia than ex-star Matthew Stafford had when he took over the Bulldogs.

"Matthew had one spring. and a camp,'' Richt said Tuesday during the annual Peach State Pigskin Preview at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. "Aaron is going to have two springs, two camps, and a summer in between to really work. Aaron, quite frankly, is going to have an opportunity to be the leader of the team throughout the summer prior to the season, whereas it was kind of up in the air whether it was going to be Matthew or not."

Richt has even rededicated himself to being more involved with his new quarterback. He had stepped back a bit from that role in recent seasons but says now he wants to be at every QB meeting, taking every step alongside Murray.

"There are a few (reasons),'' Richt said. "No. 1, I missed it. I missed being in those meetings every day. That's what I've done for 20 something years. The other thing was knowing we were about to make a quarterback decision again; I wanted to be in every single meeting, hear everything that (offensive coordinator) Mike (Bobo) told them and know exactly what was expected from them on a daily basis.

"The other thing is I hope I can add value to the room. I've been coaching QBs a long time and coaching offense for a long time. I just want to be in there and add anything I can to help us win.''

More than anything, Richt wants to be a calming influence on Murray, and do everything he can to put his young QB in the best possible situation to succeed. Like most things in life, confidence breeds confidence, and that's what Richt is looking for more than anything right now.

"I think if he doesn't try to be a hero, and just manages the game well and does the things we're asking him to do and minimizes any play that starts out poorly -- if he just does those things and respects the football, I think we'll be all right,'' Richt said. "If we can get him started out on the right foot and gaining some confidence then we'll let him grow in increments.

"The worst thing we can do is throw so much on him that he's just drowning. We don't want to do that. We don't want to set him back. We want to move forward.''

Georgia would like to move forward from last year's (gulp) 8-5 record. And the Bulldogs will have to do it without an experienced leader, which is never easy. Still, Richt sounded confident.

"I think (Aaron's) a tremendous prospect. I think he's an outstanding player,'' Richt said. "I think he's a guy who loves the game and is a great student of the game. He loves to prepare. Certain things you can't be good at unless you do them, and do them in a game. You can't simulate a game. You can't simulate national TV, can't simulate playing against (the teams)we're playing on our schedule. So in a way there are going to be bumps in the road. Hopefully, we can minimize those. The fact he is surrounded by a lot of veteran players on offense should help.''

Even now in June, Richt can see Murray growing into a leader on this team.

"He likes (leading). He's a leader,'' Richt said. "He was the leader of his high school program. He understands team, understands work. He understands winning. It's a whole new level for him but I think he's got the foundation of being a really good leader.''

Richt even said he wouldn't put the same kind of gameplan load on his young quarterback, pointing out that most game plans are overloaded to begin with, and there would be enough in every gameplan for Murray and the Bulldogs to succeed without the extras.

The hope at Georgia is for Murray to grow at a pace that doesn't harm the offense and for the defense to step up everything. Newly hired defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, fresh from the Dallas Cowboys with the attacking 3-4 defense, gives Georgia a new look, and a different edge.

"I think the 3-4 is a very good attacking style of defense. It's not so much what you run but how you run it,'' Richt said. "I think we're going to get after it. The question is how well we do it and how many mistakes we make along the way?''

That bridge has to be built from old to new before Georgia faces Louisiana-Lafayette in the opener, and even though that game should be a gimme, the Bulldogs face South Carolina and Arkansas the following weeks.

The toughest part of the transition on defense?

"You are learning a new language,'' Richt said. "Our guys have been used to calling things a certain way their entire careers. They're learning a new way of calling things, and you have to learn the personality of your coaches, too and try to understand what they want from you and try to get the job done the way they want it done, because they're the ones making decisions on who is going to play.

"Other than that I think it's been more exciting than a time of anxiety. I think the guys are settling in with knowing what positions they are going to play and getting enough comfortability with the language and techniques where they can work on them throughout the summer and by the time we start (practice) we will be further along than where we were when we finished spring.''

Akeem Dent, for one, likes Grantham's scheme.

"It's different assignments, but there's not a big difference between the 4-3 and the 3-4,'' said senior linebacker Dent, one of the leaders of Georgia's defense. "I like the 3-4 defense. It's a real good defense. It's a more aggressive style of defense. It gives you a better opportunity to put pressure on the quarterback. Being a defensive guy, we like to get after the quarterback.''

The end result could be a Georgia defense that creates havoc.

"I think we will (fly around defensively),'' Richt said. "I think there will be more opportunities for guys to get a chance to pressure the quarterback and just do things a little bit different. It's a different style, and the style is to get after you. That's the biggest thing I'm most concerned about. I think right now they are believing in it and that's half the battle.''

Even recent losses on defense to the NFL have left Richt looking at a cup that's half full.

"One thing that may be helpful to us is now there are three down linemen instead of four, so from a depth standpoint it's going to help us some,'' he said. "That noseguard is a little bit different animal in this scheme than what we had before. It's going to be a challenge to see if these guys can control the doubleteams that they need to inside. That's part of the reason we moved Justin Anderson in there because he is a big, giant, powerful man, and if he can take to it I think he's a guy who will be tough to block with just one man.''

That's the bottom line for every team in the SEC -- to step up.

Georgia may have a little farther to step after hanging up that ugly 8-5, but on the first week of June Richt sounded like a man ready to make the leap.