Richt previews Spring football, new defensive coaching staff
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Richt previews Spring football, new defensive coaching staff

Georgia Bulldogs

ATHENS, Ga. – Georgia head football coach Mark Richt previewed a number of key issues and elements regarding the 2014 season on Wednesday afternoon as the Bulldogs prepare for the start of spring football and an entirely new defensive coaching staff.

“I think the energy level is good in our building right now. Everybody is working hard,” said Richt. “The defensive staff obviously has a lot of work to do, just with Jeremy (Pruitt) explaining to everybody what he wants and introducing his system and what all the terms mean. The coaches – especially the defensive coaches – are learning the players’ names and trying to figure out who is going to wind up where.”

“Without question, spring is still going to be about teaching good fundamentals for safety purposes and for success,” added Richt. “The better we can block and tackle, the better we’ll have a chance to make our systems go. You could have a great scheme and poor tactics, and you’re going to have no success. I’d rather have less of a scheme and more tactics and more fundamentals because I think we’ll have a better chance of winning. That’s what is happening right now.”

With the start of spring practice just around the corner, Richt is thoroughly stressing the importance of fundamentals over schematic game plans and situations.

“What I always say is that I do want us to do a great job of teaching fundamentals,” said Richt. “It is a time of the year where schemes should take second place to fundamentals. Again, you don’t have to win any games. You do want to win the day, but I’ll talk about that next because number two is that I want these guys to be competing. I want them to compete for their position and competing against each other both offensively and defensively.”

In addition to the aforementioned comments, Richt also spoke on the following topics:

On the energy level of the defensive staff and any expected changes for this season…
“There’s just so much going on, and we’ve made some changes as to how we’ll practice, just with the structure of it. I asked Mike Bobo and Jeremy to get together and talk a little bit about our practice schedules over the last few years, how we went about it and if there’s anything they thought might be worthy of changing. We’re going to change how we practice just a little bit. The main ingredients that need to get accomplished during practice are going to be just fine. That’s the part where I’m looking it over and making sure we’re getting everything done within the practice that we need to get done. For example, our periods have always been five-minute periods as we go, and now we’re going to have maybe one period that’s a seven-minute or an eight-minute period. One period could be a three-minute period, and just things of that nature.”

“We’re going to change up how we do our walk-throughs just a little bit prior to practice. We normally have walk throughs, meaning walking and talking through our assignments on defense. We’ll walk and talk through assignments against each other, just for teaching. Normally when you do a walk through on offense, you’re getting some bodies to line up on defense, and it’s the same thing on defense where you’re getting somebody on the other side to line up to try to simulate an offensive set. We may as well just walk through against each other and not have to spend time setting up a scout team, so to speak. There are some really good ideas there that are going to be different, but when you have change, I think that adds excitement to what’s going on and a little energy maybe. Certainly our players – especially those on defense – know that every job is wide open and they’ve got to prove to their position coach and coordinator that they should be the guy to be a starter. They should be the guy to earn playing time and all of that kind of thing.”

On the changes taking place in practices…
“Change doesn’t necessarily mean that something needs to be fixed. It’s just a different way of doing things. Jeremy has been at a couple of places where the practices are structured just a little bit different, as far as just the time frame of certain drills. After him and Mike (Bobo) talked it over and brought it to me and I looked it over, I thought it was all good. If they buy in and are excited about it, I am too. Like I said, I had to make sure that all of the ingredients are in the practices. Is there enough fundamental time for getting certain group work together against each other? For example, we’re still going to have ‘X’ amount of pass skeletons and pass rush going on. We’re still going to have a certain amount of team run and 11-on-11 stuff. I don’t mind having a little bit of change if everybody thinks it’s a good thing and they’re excited about it. If your assistant coaches have some ownership in some of those decisions, I think they tend to sell it more and they’re more excited about starting out in the spring.”

On the mentality of the defensive players…
“My guess is that their main thought right now is that they’re just trying to win a job. What do I have to do to prove to coach that I can win this job? Guys want to play, and guys want to start. Guys want to play football and win championships, so I think that’s their main thought. I think they’re excited about just seeing what’s in store because obviously Coach Pruitt has had a lot of success where he’s been. The coaches that we’ve brought in besides him on defense have all had a lot of success where they’ve been. There’s an expectation of things getting better, so I think that’s probably where the excitement comes in.”

On player changes from offense to defense…
“Well we had already moved Tramel Terry to safety, so he’s there. J.J. Green is going to start out at cornerback. He’s beginning to learn those types of things. J.J. obviously played a lot of defense in high school, and even when he came to Georgia when we signed him, we didn’t really say for sure where he was going to end up. We really needed him at the tailback position last year, and now after Coach Pruitt looked over the situation and remembered J.J. from the recruiting process, he wanted to see what he could do (on defense). I think because of that, J.J. has already trimmed down a little bit to help his quickness and his explosiveness. Considering that he’s not going to be carrying the ball, he’ll be playing at a lighter weight, so I think he’s already feeling a little quicker and all that type of thing.”

On the separations that will occur in the secondary…
“I think our coaches are just wide open to figuring out who belongs where and who is first team and who’s not. We do have all of our off-season conditioning and our Matt-Drill programs, and coaches are allowed to be there and coaching those things and observing quickness, agility and even coachability. Can a guy get in a good position and stay there? It’s those types of things where guys are getting a little bit of a feel for what they’re going to see. Matt-Drills simulate football, but it’s not football, and until we get out there and start to put a lot of moving parts out there, I don’t think anybody has any idea who is going to end up where.”

On the biggest challenges of a new defensive staff…
“Just the fact that everybody is learning. We always use the term playing fast. Guys can play fast when they really know what they’re doing. In the learning process, first you learn what to do, and that’s good but then you have to learn how to do it. Then you have to experience it over and over until it becomes second nature, and then you can play fast. I’m sure there is going to be some hesitancy through the learning process, and not because guys aren’t tough or aggressive, but they’re just not 100 percent sure of what to do. Until everybody gets comfortable with what to do, it’s going to be hard to play extremely fast. I don’t think Jeremy’s goal is to put in so much that everybody is confused, either. I think he wants to put in enough to where there is some carryover when the fall rolls around. We know that we don’t have to win a game this spring, so we’re going to expose them to as much as we possibly can within the system, knowing that they probably won’t be perfect right now. If they get through that learning process in the spring, then all summer long we can be thinking on it and studying it and learning it. Then in camp, we’ll have to start all over from scratch and get better at it to have more confidence. By the time we get to the game, we have to decide that of the things we worked on, what can we perfect? What do we feel we can go into the game and expect to execute?

On his opinions on the proposed ‘slow-down’ rule…
“I support the officials being in position to call the game. I think you can go so fast that an official is out of position. There ought to be something in there to help the officials be in position to call the game, for their safety and for the integrity of the game, so to speak. I think that’s important. I think that not many people snap the ball faster than the 10-second timing that we’re talking about. If everybody snapped the ball right at 10 seconds, they’re flying and they’re going fast. I don’t know how much it would even affect us, but do I think that the rule should change? I don’t think the rule should change. Should it be modified somewhat if it needs to be to help the officials get in the right spots? I’d say yes. I think we’re in an off-year for rules changing, and the only way a rule can change is if it has a player safety issue involved in it. I think it’s more of a style issue than a safety issue. That’s what I think.”

On the difference in speed between NFL and college games…
“The biggest thing that the NFL doesn’t do that we do is stop the clock on first downs. We’ve changed a little bit there, but I like the game the way it is, personally. I don’t hear anybody griping or moaning about it. I think fans think it’s a great game and they enjoy it. We do run more plays than NFL teams do, but they have a 53-man roster and we have a 125-man roster. We have more kids that we can get in the game, and the more playing time they get, the better the morale is and the better it is for the players.”

“I don’t even know what angle everyone is taking, but I’ve been saying this and I believe it. If you can train offensive players to play seven plays or six plays in a row in a rapid-fire sequence, then I think you should be able to teach defensive players to do the same thing. In regard to that, I don’t think there’s an issue with safety. So more plays, more yards, more points, more injuries…I don’t know. I don’t think that can possibly be determined.”

On Todd Gurley…
“Well right now, Todd Gurley has still been bothered by the injury that he had, so I really don’t know what to expect from Todd in the spring. Let’s say that ankle was 100 percent on Jan. 30th and he’s been doing fine and doing all of the offseason things, we’d hook him up and play ball with everyone else, but right now he’s been less than full speed. My guess is that unless he’s completely healed by March 18, there will be some modification to what he’s doing.”

On what he’s looking forward to in spring practice…
“I think you really have to compete every day to get in the habit of what it’s going to take throughout the season, so I think it’s good to get into the habit of trying to win every drill and that type of thing. Some drills will be structured to cooperate with one another (offense vs. defense), but then we’ll hook it up and ask them who’s going to win. This year probably more than most years –because we have a brand new defensive scheme – is just learning what to do. Other than Jacob Park, everybody on offense is back with a pretty good working knowledge of what we do.”

On injured players…
“Jay (Rome) may be able to do some things before spring is over, but I don’t think he’ll be able to do much. Justin Scott-Wesley, no, and Keith Marshall, no. Reggie Wilkerson has made a lot of progress. He may be in some non-contact situations, but from what I’ve seen, Matt-Drills and the offseason have really helped Reggie. Malcolm (Mitchell) has made a lot of progress. He may be able to run some routes and maybe do some pass skeletons somewhere along the way, but I doubt he’ll get anywhere near to a contact drill.”

On simulating game situations…
“When we scrimmage, there are some times where a coach needs to be on the field or in the huddle to help a young player or something like that, but usually on a scrimmage day, we’ll try to get the coaches off the field. I may be on the field standing back at a distance with a headset on and listening to the plays that are being called and the defenses that are being called, but I’m not in there telling guys what to do. I’m just observing from behind as a neutral observer, so to speak. We’ll do that at least three times this spring. I haven’t even asked Jeremy if he’s calling a game from the ground or the booth. Some defensive coordinators go up, but some stay on the ground. I’ve got no problem. I know what it’s like to call plays from the ground and what it’s like to call plays from upstairs, and for me there is a difference. It’s whatever he feels most comfortable with.”


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