The Planning of Summer

ATHENS - The dog days of summer are hardly dog days for college football coaches.

In fact, it's probably the most relaxed time of the year in a calendar that has fewer and fewer relaxing moments.

But there still is work getting done, and all of that work is aimed at what is just around the corner – The Season. With Georgia's season-opener against Louisiana-Lafayette just days away now, the Bulldogs are putting into action plans their coaches spent many quiet moments of the summer formulating.

For the next three months, Georgia head coach Mark Richt will think and talk only about the next thing – the next game or the next practice or even the next play – but the summer is big picture time, Bulldogs offensive coordinator and play caller Mike Bobo said.

"During the offseason we do a summer breakdown of every opponent that we play – some of it more in-depth than others," Bobo said. "We do a full breakdown on the first six opponents we face as an offense. We also do a full in-depth on the guys in the (SEC) East and Georgia Tech. Some guys in the West, like Auburn, we won't do in-depth because it's so late in the year, but we'll do every team, watch film on them just like it's game week."

That means two or three days of game-planning that may or not be of any use whatsoever when the actual game rolls around.

"That week, we'll pull it out and say, ‘OK, this is what we were thinking in the summer.' It might change," he said. "(The opponent) might be doing some different stuff defensively. We might be doing something different based on an injury or who came out as a playmaker. We try to look at every opponent and get some kind of plan, but be willing to change it."

For Georgia's offensive coaches, that doesn't necessarily mean looking at film of, say, Tennessee when they are trying to come up a game plan for the Vols. Three of the Bulldogs' SEC opponents (Mississippi State, Tennessee and Florida) and Georgia Tech have a new defensive coordinator this year. So that means the Bulldogs watched a lot of Boise State film to see what new Vols' defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox does. For Mississippi State, it was Middle Tennessee State, the former home of Manny Diaz, and for Florida, it was the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, the previous home of new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. The Yellow Jackets have added former Virginia head coach Al Groh to their staff, so there was film of the Cavaliers to watch as well.

There are also plenty of summer discussions centering around players, particularly star players, Bobo said. This year that means talking about wide receiver A.J. Green, who had 53 catches for 808 yards and six touchdowns last year and is expected to be one of the best receivers in the nation this year, if not the best.

"You always go visit (other teams and their coaches) and you are always trying to figure out how to get your playmakers the football," Bobo said. "That's what you do as offensive coaches – you identify who you think the playmakers are and then you find a way to get them the ball, and obviously he's our No. 1 guy. Really, every game we go into it, we think, ‘How do we get A.J. the ball out of this set? Is there something new that we can do?' Last year we were able to get it to him by moving him around. He played two different spots, whereas his freshman year he only played one. Now going into his junior year, he'll probably be able to play three or four spots on the field at receiver which will help."

For his part, Green has worked hard to get in peak shape this year in hope of avoiding the kind of injuries that cut into each of the last two seasons.

"He's got a burning desire to stay healthy this year, and he's worked hard. That's another way to get him the ball. He hasn't played a full season for us yet," Bobo said. "But you are always looking for ways. Of course, you don't want to be too tricky. He's such a great player. My thing with the (quarterbacks) is, ‘Just give the guy a chance.' You give the guy a chance and eight times out of 10, he is going to make the play."

When Bobo played quarterback for the Bulldogs in the mid- to late-90s, getting a wide receiver the football meant throwing him the football, but that's not the case anymore, he admitted. With the rising popularity and success of the spread offense, even teams like Georgia (which run a more traditional pro-style offense) are looking at different ways to get players the football. So Georgia's summer sessions included thoughts about lining up Green in the backfield and tossing him the ball--or even snapping it straight to him in a Wildcat formation.

"A lot depends on what your (other) personnel is like," Bobo said. "You'd like to have playmakers in the backfield, playmakers out wide and then at the tight end position and then the triggerman who can get it to them all. I think we've got good backs. I think we've got great wide receivers. I think we have a chance to have great tight ends. I think we are fortunate to have some guys in the playmaking positions that enable you to line up in several different formations, but possibly be in the same personnel groups. The deal is you don't want to try to be too complex because you have a freshman quarterback, who I have a tremendous amount of confidence in, and I think our team does too, but I hate to put it on his shoulders that he's going to have to do it. We have to protect him and help him have some success early."

And that leads to another summer discussion for Georgia's coaches: how to get redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray ready for the fall. College head coaches and assistant coaches are very limited in the amount of time they can spend with players in the offseason, so Bobo basically had to send Murray off by himself with a checklist of items to improve upon.

"Obviously, one is working under center with him," Bobo said. "He didn't do a lot of that in high school. Staying on balance. Just some fundamental things to work on. You have to be careful not to give him too much. He is going to do every single thing you ask him to do times 10. You don't want to give him too many things to do."

Maybe the summers aren't such a relaxing time after all. Good thing the season is just around the corner.


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