Spring Ball Just Around the Corner

ATHENS - There are plenty of questions Mark Richt is excited to find answers to during spring practice this year.

The competition Richt is most interested to watch, however, is one that isn't likely to be resolved until the team is ready to start its season this fall – or maybe even later.

"I'm really interested to see the competition at tailback," Richt said. "I think there's absolutely an answer or answers within the group of young men we have right now. I don't think there's any question that we're going to have high production from our tailback position, it's just going to be interesting to see who comes to the forefront in that role."

During spring practice, only Caleb King and Carlton Thomas will be on the field, while Richard Samuel and Dontavius Jackson rehab injuries. Incoming freshman Washaun Ealey won't be on campus until the summer.

Richt said it's possible that, following the departure of Knowshon Moreno, the Bulldogs could return to a running back-by-committee approach that his offenses had employed for most of his tenure in Athens. Still, the opportunity for King to prove his metal this spring could also earn him a shot to nail down a hefty chunk of the carries this season.

"Caleb's got to be more consistent," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "He's shown us some flashes, and he'll have a chance to do that. He's going to be the primary back with Richard out this spring. He's been working hard, he's done a great job in workouts, and we've seen the quickness and the explosion coming out of high school."

MANY HAPPY RETURNS

While Thomas will battle King for snaps at tailback this spring, he'll also have a chance to earn a job as Georgia's top returner in 2009.

The fleet-footed Thomas has drawn rave reviews from players and coaches for his speed and instincts, and Richt said the freshman could be used to return both punts and kicks this year.

"He's super quick, great balance, very tough, he's strong," Richt said. "I think he would be a very, very good candidate for kickoff and punt return. Some guys fit one or the other better, but I think he's fast enough, strong enough, agile enough, sturdy enough to be able to handle either one of those things."

Cornerback Prince Miller remains atop Georgia's spring depth chart at punt returner, but as the lone corner with starting experience, coaches may want to save him from special-teams hits so he'll be fresh on defense.

Samuel finished the year as the team's top kick returner, but while he recovers from a wrist injury this spring, cornerback Brandon Boykin could work his way into the mix for the job, too.

"He got some reps last year," said linebacker and special-teams stalwart Nick Williams. "Speed, he has all the mechanics to be on kickoffs, low 4.4 maybe 4.3s, very swift with great feet. I'll definitely block for him."

STAYING FOCUSED

The buzz around the locker room this offseason has surrounded the team's new work ethic in the weight room and on the practice field. Richt said he has attempted to sharpen the players' focus in what he said is a back-to-basics mentality.

"Every year you evaluate what you've done well and what you haven't done so well, and anything you think you need to tighten up, you do it," Richt said. "Our mentality right now is I'm going to treat this team as if it's the first year I've been coaching at Georgia. We're setting the tempo as a coaching staff. We're setting the bar, and we're expecting these guys to reach that bar. They've been fighting like mad to do that, and I think that's what they're talking about."

Of course, the players admit that talking about change is easy at this point in the offseason. It's what happens once the rigors of workouts have taken their toll and the coaching staff isn't looking over their shoulders that will really determine how much different the attitude is in 2009.

"Right now, everybody's focused because everybody's pushing each other and the coaches are all over us," wide receiver Kris Durham said. "But once we get to right after spring practice, the coaches really can't be around except for strength and conditioning, and we're going to really have to take it upon ourselves, take the mentality that we've built up so far and take it into the summer."


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