"A year ago, I was just shaking my head," Richt said.
Today, he is five days away from opening the season with a true freshman starting at running back at Georgia for the first time since the 1940s, and he's hardly breaking a sweat. Not only will starter Danny Ware be playing his first collegiate game against Georgia Southern at 3 p.m. on Saturday, but another true freshman, Thomas Brown, seems destined for early playing time.
And the Eagles are going to test the No. 3 Bulldogs' backs early. First-year defensive coordinator Joe Tresey has installed an aggressive, blitzing scheme that will be a good first test for Georgia. So why is Richt so calm?
"It's not the concern it was a year ago," he said. "Danny and Thomas are both very physical guys. They understand they have to block and they have a real good attitude about doing it."
Offensive coordinator and line coach Neil Callaway said he feels better about the backs' blocking than he has since Tony Milton was sidelined after the fifth game last year. Callaway expects Tressey to make the Bulldogs' young backs prove themselves.
"If I was them, that's what I would do," he said.
Tresey was the defensive coordinator at Division I-A Akron in 2002 and 2003, turning around that unit. Last year, the Zips had 22 sacks.
Ware is confident he and his backfield mates are up to the challenge. Callaway thinks Ware's participation in spring practice is the reason he's more familiar with the team's pass protection schemes than last year's freshmen, but Ware said it didn't really click for him until a long conversation with quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo early this fall.
"At first," he said. "I thought it was about the hardest thing in the world."
Brown missed more than a week of practice due to a hamstring injury, but he said Monday that the time on the sidelines helped him because he was able to see the whole field and understand the blocking schemes.
"I think it helped me out a lot," he said. "I feel pretty confident about it. I feel I've had enough reps to get it done in the game."
Richt has made it clear to the backs that they better be ready to handle the blitz or be ready to sit on the bench.
"If you don't block, you don't play," Ware said. "That's it."
Ware has gotten the message.
"I don't mind blocking at all," he said. "It's very important. If we don't block and get the quarterback killed, we don't have anything. You have to have a quarterback so blocking is really the No. 1 thing to do."
NOTES: Safety Greg Blue was arrested early Saturday morning in Athens for driving with a suspended license, but he won't miss any game time due it, he said. "Just early morning running," Blue said moments after speaking to Coach Mark Richt about the incident. "It was real good news because I didn't want to let our team down." Blue was stopped for driving with an expired tag. "I should have been in bed," he said. "It's my fault." … Freshman running back Thomas Brown said not only is he planning on playing this year but he is currently a starting kickoff returner for the Bulldogs. … It's also looking like freshman Chester Adams will play. Adams, who offensive line coach Neil Callaway calls "Big Cheese", is now second string at tackle behind Dennis Roland.