SAVANNAH − If the Bulldawg Nation was excited about Georgia’s defense getting back to the fundamentals of tackling and attacking the football under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt during the Bulldogs’ recently completed spring practice, the Georgia faithful in attendance at UGA Day here Thursday night left even more stoked after listening to head coach Mark Richt.
Speaking to a sizable turnout at The Charles H. Morris Center at Trustees Garden, Richt spoke in depth on what Pruitt and his new defensive staff of Tracy Rocker, Mike Ekeler and Kevin Sherrer are bringing to the Red and Black table and what their different coaching tactics could mean in the way of the Bulldogs’ success this coming fall.
“We thought spring went well,” Richt began. “Obviously, the defensive side of the ball was learning from scratch, not from scratch but as far as our new system, our new terminology and all that, it was almost from ground zero. One thing that Jeremy Pruitt, our new defensive coordinator, did was he tried to look at the playbook prior to see how many things were very similar, maybe in cover three or two-deep coverage or whatever it is, and he tried to learn the language the guys were used to instead of trying to make them learn everything from scratch, which I thought was a pretty neat deal to help try to get the players to learn more quickly.
“But there was a lot to learn for them,” said Richt, who also spoke at UGA Day in Orlando, Fla. on Wednesday night. “Tracy Rocker, our defensive line coach; Mike Ekeler, our inside linebackers coach; Kevin Sherrer, our outside linebackers coach and nickel back coach, and of course Jeremy’s coaching the DBs …. all those guys had to learn their new coach, how does he want things done, how does he want them to do things fundamentally. Coaches always say, ‘I don’t want a guy to loaf or not give maximum effort on a play.’ Well, everybody’s definition of a loaf is a little bit different and the definition of a loaf with this staff is a little bit different than the last staff. So our guys are trying to figure a lot of things out on defense.”
Richt said the rich coaching experience the new defensive coaches brought to Athens has invigorated the entire Bulldogs’ staff.
“Coach Pruitt, Coach Rocker, Coach Ekeler and Coach Sherrer, they all coached high school ball and I think it’s good when you have that,” he said. “These guys are used to taking young guys, taking them from ground zero fundamentally and really showing them how to tackle, showing them how to defeat blocks and how to do things fundamentally sound. They’re really good teachers here and they were teachers as well at their earlier schools. And everyone of them was also on a national championship team in college so they all know what it takes to win and because of that I think they have developed a standard of how we’re to operate. This is what we consider maximum effort and we expect that every single play and if you don’t we’ll put somebody else in there. And the other thing is when you come in new and you say, ‘Hey, everybody’s got a shot to become a starter, everybody’s got a shot to get playing time,’ well, it rang true. And right now,” Richt declared, “I don’t know if we have anybody that’s nailed down a starting position. So even in the off-season everyone of these guys is thinking, ‘I’ve got a chance,’ or ‘I better get my act together or I’m going to lose my starting job,’ so I think the competition is helping quite a bit.”
Richt said even his first interview with Pruitt in looking for a successor to former coordinator Todd Grantham, got himself fired up.
“One thing Coach Pruitt said to me in the interview process − actually two things he said − that I fell in love with was, one, he said, ‘Do you mind if I help coach special teams?’ Well, that was big,” said Richt, drawing a spontaneous burst of laughter from his audience. “When your defensive coordinator is involved with that, that’s a big deal. But the other thing he said was, ‘If we can’t execute it, I won’t call it in the game.’ So sometimes I think some coaches think the scheme is going to win the game. We’re going to out-scheme everybody. But it’s really the fundamentals that count. You may call the best defense for that situation but if your defense can’t execute it properly, we’ve got issues.
“And so Coach Pruitt is like, ‘Coach, I’m just telling you right now, I’m a pretty simple ball coach and we can do as many things schematically as anybody else in the nation but as we’re installing things and getting the guys used to what we’re doing, if we go into game one and I think there’s something in the game plan that I don’t think we can execute, we just won’t call it. We’ll make sure they know what they’re doing when they’re out there.’ And that will be a big deal for us,” said Richt.
Here are other topics Georgia’s head coach touched on Thursday night in both his early sit-down with the UGA beat media and his open presentation to the Georgia alumni and fans, as emceed by Georgia radio and television personality Chuck Dowdle:
(On the Bulldogs recruiting now on more of a nation-wide basis)
“I don’t know if it’s more so. We’ve done a good bit of that. I’d like to start recruiting in-state from the get-go but the way spring ball is designed for a lot of the schools they don’t start it until later. So we’re kind of waiting until everybody’s in gear. So we’re in and out of state right now. But I think we’re doing a good job of getting video in and evaluating it and making offers and getting guys on the phone. I think we’re in a good place right now.”
(On Georgia’s in-state recruiting)
“Every coach has an in-state area that he’s responsible to locate players that are good enough on the field and academically and as far as how they behave. For example, Bryan McClendon might have an area in Atlanta and he finds an offensive lineman that he thinks meets that criteria. Then he’s got to get with Coach (Will) Friend, our line coach, to take a look and see what he thinks, and then if Will likes him Coach (Mike) Bobo will get involved and take a look. Then if everybody agrees and thinks we ought to offer the guy they’ll bring it to me for kind of the final stamp and then we’ll make an offer at that point if I feel comfortable with it. But that’s kind of how we go in-state. Obviously, I could say we’re gonna sign this guy no matter what but I really want our position coach to want the guy. I want him to put his stamp on the guy and say, ‘this is the guy I want and I think he can do it.’ Because that’s a relationship that I think is very important. If I say we’re going to take this guy even though the position coach was not comfortable with it, then if anything at all happens wrong he’s going to be like, ‘Well, Coach made me take the guy, Coach made me coach him.’ I want our position coaches to be 100 percent convinced this guy can do it.”
(On high school players from Atlanta maybe not having a strong allegiance to the University of Georgia)
“There’s a lot of guys from Atlanta that really aren’t from Georgia. There’s a lot of kids from a lot of different places that end up in Atlanta as well, so it’s more rural Georgia that has more of a loyalty (to UGA), whereas Atlanta’s such a big city and there’s so many people from so many different places over the years. And too, if we sign 20 a year, there’s probably 150 here that are major D-I players out of the state so you’re just not going to get all the guys out of your state. The SEC has more Georgia players on its rosters than any state in the union. Most people think it’s Florida but that’s not the case, it’s Georgia. You’ve got to try to get the ones that can help you win championships and be the right kind of guy.”
(On junior tailback Todd Gurley being among the best players he’s ever coached)
“When Todd’s healthy and Todd’s in shape he’s as good as anybody I’ve ever been around, up close. I saw film of Herschel Walker, I’ve seen film of other people. But to just say I’ve coached him or had a close-up look at the guy, he could be as good as any of them. Hopefully, he’ll be healthy and if he’s healthy he’ll be in good condition. He loves to play in the big games. He’s a good player.”
(On Gurley being a Heisman candidate in 2014)
“I think most Heisman candidates, the numbers speak for themselves. If you have to do a promotion to get the guy to be a Heisman Trophy winner, he’s probably not going to win it. If he plays well enough and we win, he’ll be in the race and my guess is, and I might be wrong, I’ll bet you he’s in the top five of everybody’s preseason Heisman list and I’ll be surprised if he wasn’t first or second-team preseason All-American in every publication.”
(On backup junior tailback Keith Marshall being 100 percent come August camp)
“Keith will be fine. The only quote I saw on that (Marshall possibly redshirting after his knee surgery) was Coach Bobo talking about it relatively soon after surgery and saying, ‘If he’s not ready we’ll redshirt him,’ kind of matter of fact, and I think it kind of grew into something. But Keith’s looking really good. He’s running straight ahead with no limitations, he’s cutting. Not 100 percent speed with his cuts but he’s got no issues with it. I asked him just yesterday or the day before and he says he feels good. I think of all the guys, it may be mid-June before Malcolm’s (Mitchell) full speed and no limitations but everybody else will be ready to go including Justin Scott-Wesley.”
(On incoming freshman tailback Nick Chubb running a recent 10.67 in the 100-meter dash for Cedartown High and now up to 229 pounds)
“I know, he’s a beast. He’s just a great kid, super kid. I’ll just say, it’s a good problem (for the Bulldogs to have a wealth of running backs come August preseason camp).”
(On naming any certain team leaders at the moment)
“I know we’re used to doing it a certain way but we may not have any this year.”
(On the experience of the Georgia offense and the way senior QB Hutson Mason has taken control of that offense)
“Offensively, our players have really been blessed. Every single player on offense except Jacob Park, who came in as a mid-year enrollee at quarterback, has at least one year under their belt with our system. And you take Hutson Mason, our quarterback, who by the way in our opinion − I say our opinion, mine and Coach Bobo’s − he really tightened his grip on that starting position. But he’s going into his fifth season and everything he’s learned from day one is still true today. The system has not changed so he’s very familiar with what we’re doing. There’s not a thing in our system that Aaron Murray did that he won’t be able to do. He’ll be able to run it extremely well and we’re very excited about his leadership ability and how he’ll do for us.”