Richt eager to turn things around at Georgia

Mark Richt dusted off an old speech on the eve of Georgia’s

first practice.

He hopes it works out like it did in 2002.

The Bulldogs began preseason workouts in sweltering conditions

Thursday, only appropriate since their coach is definitely on the

hot seat with Georgia coming off its first losing season of the

Richt era.

Heading into his 11th season in Athens, the coach knows he must

turn things around quickly. His players are eager to do their

part.

”We all take it very personally,” defensive end Abry Jones

said. ”We don’t really want to be seen as the Georgia years where

they had the down years. No one wants that on their record when

they leave here.”

Speaking with his team the night before, Richt brought up many

of the same things he said before the ’02 season. The Bulldogs went

on to capture their first Southeastern Conference championship in

20 years.

Georgia won the SEC again in 2005 but has been surpassed in

recent years by conference rivals such as Florida, Alabama, LSU and

Auburn – all of which have won national titles.

”There’s some similarities,” Richt said. ”It’s not been 20

years, but it’s been five or six years. That’s too long in my mind.

We talked a little about the mindset of that team going into 2002.

… We talked about some of the very same things.”

He doesn’t want the players thinking about his future.

”I don’t think it’s been an issue at all,” Richt said. ”I’m

not going to say the guys haven’t heard it. But when they’re in

here or on the practice field or in the strength room, all that

stuff, everything is geared toward this season and the excitement

of it and the fact that we have a chance to have a great

year.”

The SEC sure appears wide open.

Defending champion Auburn must replace Heisman Trophy winner Cam

Newton and Florida is breaking in a new coach, Will Muschamp. South

Carolina has been tabbed as the favorite to repeat as champion of

the East, but the Bulldogs will get a chance to make their mark

when the teams meet in their traditional conference opener in

Athens on Sept. 10.

”People are gonna talk and say what they want to say,”

cornerback Brandon Boykin said. ”That’s part of the game.

Ultimately, we know that we’ve got to go out there, take care of

our business and win games. The rest will take care of

itself.”

At least Richt isn’t having to answer questions about breaking

in a new quarterback. Aaron Murray excelled as a redshirt freshman,

throwing for 3,049 yards with 24 touchdowns and only eight

interceptions.

Murray should be more comfortable in the offense as a sophomore

but he won’t have his best receiver, A.J. Green, who gave up his

senior season and was one of the top picks in the NFL draft.

While one guy drew most of the attention a year ago, Murray is

counting on several receivers to fill the huge void left by

Green.

”We’ve got seven of eight guys who could start game one,” the

quarterback said. ”We’re that deep.”

Having spent a year in coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme,

the defense figures to be the team’s strong point, at least in the

early going while Georgia breaks in new starters at not only

receiver, but running back.

Washaun Ealey and Caleb King both left the program, and touted

freshman Isaiah Crowell is expected to quickly assume the role as

the main guy taking handoffs from Murray.

Richt has not ruled out Crowell being the starter when the

Bulldogs open Sept. 3 against Boise State, but the coach is also

quick to note that every freshman has a lot to learn.

”I told them all, ‘Your goal is to learn what to do,”’ he

said. ”Most of them have been here all summer. They realize we’ve

got some pretty good players on the team. Now, we’re going to start

installing things, and we’re going at a veteran pace, not a rookie

pace. Their heads are swimming already.”

The Bulldogs, like teams across the South, had to deal with a

blistering afternoon for their first practice. The temperature was

in the mid-90s, and the humidity made it feel like the 100s.

Jonathan Jenkins, a 340-pound nose guard and another of the

team’s top signees, was helped inside during the middle of practice

with what might have been a heat-related problem, though it didn’t

appear serious.

Georgia will need everyone on board for what it hopes to be a

comeback season.

”It’s extreme motivation to hear people say coach Richt might

be on the hot seat,” Jones said. ”For us as players, to have put

him in that kind of position, we’re extremely motivated to help him

out and show what a great coach he actually is and show what great

players we are.”