Coach Mark Richt will open his second spring football practice at Georgia on March 4. The G-Day spring game is scheduled for April 6. There will be a two-week spring break in the middle of the schedule.
Coming off an 8-4 season, Richt has to replace heavy or key losses at defensive end, safety, running back, tight end and center, but he has enough returning talent that Georgia should be expected to move closer to the top in the Southeastern Conference this year.
In an interview with Georgia beat writer Charles Odum, Richt discussed offseason conditioning drills, depth problems at running back and wide receiver and a quarterback competition between David Greene and D.J. Shockley that should continue into the fall.
Q: This is your coming out party for the calendar year for the public, but you've already been working with the infamous mat drills. How have those drills progressed in your second year?
A: "They have been going great in my opinion. Last year it was like dealing with 90 true freshmen. There was no one to look to to set the bar for what it should look like. Now we have some who know how to get it done right.
We're still a ways off from a great majority of the team being ready to really attack the mats and really produce like they should. I still see freshmen or first-time players jumping up to the front of the line when we grade them, grading just as high or higher as guys who have been around. That shouldn't happen after three or four years of it. It should be everybody who has done it before is up there doing it right and any new guy, no matter how good he does, it's not good enough to break up into the top.''
Q: Do you think at this time last year players had an appreciation of how important the drills are as a pace-setter for the season?
A: "There's no doubt. You could look at our season and see how many times did we lose the fourth quarter and lose the game? How many times did we win the fourth quarter and win the game?
"It drove a point home in the Tennessee game because they're like ‘Yeah, we finished the drill' and we did. But did we finish it in the South Carolina game or Auburn game or the bowl game? Did we really finish the drill those days? The answer is no, and so we really have to continue to work toward that end.''
Q: Depth is always a concern for any team in the spring. Last year, tailback was the obvious weak position. What area is a concern this spring?
A: "We're going to be short at tailback again, depending on if Musa Smith can make it back. If he makes it back, it will help tremendously. Tony Milton had shoulder surgery and he'll miss spring. We moved Kenny Bailey to defense.
"We've got Mike Gilliam and Musa if he's healthy. Albert Hollis is still not ready. We've got Ronnie Powell out there. It's not like we've got a tremendous amount of guys out there.
"Our receiver position is tremendously limited. We'll miss Fred Gibson at least the first two weeks. Reggie Brown is not ready. I believe we have four scholarship receivers who are healthy. That's just not very many.''
Q: What is the update on Musa and his groin injury? He seemed to be stronger at the end of the season.
A: "Musa is trying to get healthy. He is still not full speed yet. We're hoping to have him full speed by spring ball. ... I'm frustrated with it really. It's an injury that's kind of a weird thing and something you don't see an awful lot. It's hard to know how to treat sometime.
"I don't know what to call it, but it sure has been troubling. Just imagine what Musa might have done if he's healthy all year. Or if we knew he wasn't healthy and we're smart enough to have Verron (Haynes) there from the beginning, somebody was about to get 1,500 yards rushing, probably, or at least 1,000. We need a healthy Musa. That will really help us.''
Q: Have you considered temporary adjustments at tailback for spring?
A: "Right now we'll try to gut it through. I'd hate to pull anybody from anywhere just to be a short-time solution. Sometimes you have to make a move just to finish practice. Somebody might have to become unselfish.''
Q: Considering David Greene is the returning SEC Freshman of the year, the quarterback position will be interesting. There is a lot of interest to see what D.J. Shockley can do. How do you plan to handle that?
A: "I want to treat the position just like we do the rest of them, maybe even more so than usual at the quarterback position in that everybody will be fighting for a starting job and fighting for playing time.
"It will be good to see these guys compete and that's what spring ball is about. I do believe that David Greene and D.J. both from what I've seen are capable of being an NFL quarterback one day. I mean these guys are talented. That's a very good problem for us.
"The other thing is their talents, there's a contrast to what they can do. That can be of extreme value to us. Everything is going to be based on production. We're going to be fair, but we also feel it's an extremely good situation for us. Also, Cory Phillips will be battling and we will see what Joe Tereshinski can do.''
Q: It sounds clear that you have an interest, if not an expectation, of having Greene and Shockley seeing playing time on a regular basis.
A: "I think it will be very difficult for both of them not to play. How's it going to happen? I don't know. How it will be best for them and the football team? I don't know. We're just going to have to wait and see, but there's not going to be any big announcement about the quarterback position this spring. If ever there is a change of Greene as the starter, it would be a true battlefield promotion.''
Q: How does this compare to your plan at other positions?
A: "When I have our defensive ends or linebackers or any position on the team, I tell the coaches I want the second-string guy to play. I want them to play. Get him in there. If he doesn't deserve to play, get him three plays anyway. Get him in the game. We need to build depth, we need to create better morale. We need to see what these guys do under fire.
"I make them play two guys. I leave it to the position coach to decide the percentages, 80-20, 60-40 or 50-50. So they're fighting for a starting position but they're also fighting for playing time. Then when they get that playing time, if they produce better, they're going to earn more playing time, maybe to the point where they pass the starter.''
Q: You've addressed this before, but one more time, please, for the record: Might you play D.J. at any position other than quarterback in order to get both players on the field at the same time?
A: "That won't happen, no.''