Beau Page/Dawg Post

Tuesday Q&A with Mark Richt

Read on to see everything Mark Richt was saying just a few days before the team's season opener against Florida A&M on Saturday.

Opening Statement…

“Excited about this week obviously - finally game week. I’m looking forward to getting one under our belt. I’ve been here almost nine months now, and it’s been a lot of work between the first day and today, and we’re continuing to work hard. I like how we have prepared, starting with our mat drills, onto spring ball, everything that happened this summer, our camp, and just the last few days of practice and preparation for this ballgame.

“I feel like our coaches and players have really just done all we can do, now it’s time to go line up and play and see what we got. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to play Florida A&M. We’re very excited about being at Hard Rock Stadium. We didn’t know for sure that we would be there by now, congratulations to everybody involved in trying to get that building ready. We had a chance to go by there Sunday and take a look as a team. I wanted to get over the shock and awe of it, because it is a very beautiful place and a little different from what the players are used to – of course having a canopy over the top, four jumbo screens and just the field itself is immaculate. It’s going to be a wonderful privilege and opportunity for our guys to play in an NFL stadium and a place that we’ll call home. We’re thankful for that. I want to publicly thank the Miami Dolphin program, the coaches there, to allow us to use their bubble the other day. That was actually on Sunday as well. We got a good practice indoors, it was very nice to be in the A/C. I think the guys had a little more juice in practice because of it, and took a little bit less out of them than being out in the heat. I think we’re used to the heat, for sure. It was nice to be inside.

“Moving on to Florida A&M, Coach Alex Wood is the head coach there. He coached back here early in his career as a running backs coach, won a couple of national championships as a running backs coach. He’s putting together a really fine football team. I just want to talk a little bit about their offense and some of their players that are returning. The receiver [Brandon] Norwood, No.  7, had 49 receptions last year, [Alonzo] Palmer had 15 catches – that was their tight end. Their other receiver is [Montavious] Williams, No. 15 - he had 45 receptions, so you have two guys coming back with nearly 50 receptions apiece. Not 100 percent sure who’s going to play quarterback for them, I know [Kenneth] Coleman was the man with the most experience, a senior. They have a kid named [Ryan] Stanley, No. 14, a kid out of Flanagan [High School] that threw about 40 TDs in his high school career. I ‘m not sure if he’ll play or if they’ll all play. [Vincent] Jeffries, a junior college transfer, I’m not sure how he has come into the mix. Then [Devin] Bowers, their tailback, had over 400 yards rushing this year.

“Defensively their leading tackler is No. 18 [Jacques] Bryant. He plays free safety, he had 75 tackles last year, very physical, headhunter-type guy. Their cornerback [Braxton] Brown had 45 tackles himself. Then they have a guy named [Curtis] Alexander who was a linebacker last year who had 51 tackles, but he’s going to play, from what I understand, defensive end. It’ll be interesting to see that. Their punter is returning…Colby Blanton, he had over a 39-yard average. I think he kicked last year, this year they have a true freshman in there named [Khalil] Clark. I believe he’s going to have kicking duties. Their punt returner Kareem Smith – he’s scheduled to be the punt returner this year - he only had one return last year, don’t know a lot about their return men in that regard. Again, I’m looking forward to this opportunity to play somebody besides Miami. If you have any questions, have at it.”

 

On the team’s linebacker rotation, which will include three freshmen, and preparing them…

“I think the big thing is just the fact they they’ve been here for a long time. They’ve been here since January. They went through spring football. They went through mat drills first, they went through spring ball. They spent the whole summer with our strength staff, getting stronger, faster and quicker. Of course we went through camp. When we installed our defense in the spring, they heard it for the first time with the rest of their defensive teammates. It’s not like the rest of the defense had heard it before. They heard it with them. They heard it in the summer, because we’re allowed to meet with the summer…then we installed it again during camp. They’ve been through three installations of the same defense, and they’ve heard it as often as anybody else who has been in this program, because it’s new to everybody. In a lot of ways, they’re not freshmen to us.

“I think the freshmen were looking around that stadium [Sunday] maybe a little more than the veterans. Our guys have been in a big stadium, plenty of the veterans, but the young guys haven’t really played in many big stadiums at all – and if they played in a big stadium, it probably didn’t have a lot of people in it. Sometimes, if you jump even in a high school state championship game, it’s a hard time filling up a 60- or 70,000-seat stadium. That part will be new to them. And just wearing that U on your helmet for the first time has really got to be a surreal experience. When I played, it takes a minute. I guess at a contact position like linebacker, it doesn’t take long to get those feelings out, because once you strike somebody for the first time or get struck, one way or another, you tend to get ready to play pretty quick.”

 

On how the team responded to the dismissal of two defensive players this week…

“We just got back to work. I talked to the team about how football is a game of attrition. Sometimes attrition happens like this, sometimes it happens from an injury, sometimes it happens because of a transfer and sometimes it happens because of academics. There are just so many reasons why someone along the way, someone is not there. [Lawrence] Cager gets hurt in the summer - no one really expected that. Now somebody has to get more reps, and now all of a sudden Ahmmon Richards is getting more of an opportunity and Dayall Harris is getting more of an opportunity because of that. From that standpoint, everybody kind of knows it and gets, ‘Hey, the next guy has to be ready.’ That’s why we rep our one units, two units, our three units, that’s why we’re teaching them all what to do in the spring and early fall camp.

“But on the other hand, they’re teammates. They’re friends. They’re guys who had been working alongside them that have created the energy and momentum that we have at this point. It hurts. It hurts us as coaches, it hurts the fans, it hurts the teammates. I’m sure it hurts those gentlemen. Like I said before, it is what it is. It’s done, and so now, what are we going to do now to make sure we win? People have always asked about my coaching style. If a guy messes up, I don’t spend a lot of time, especially on game day, wearing somebody out for messing up. My focus is, where are we at and what do we have to do to win? What do we have to do now? If there’s a holding on third down and 2 and now it’s third and 12, what’s the third-and-12 play? Let’s move on. Let’s figure out what we have to do to execute. Once something is in the past, you can’t change it. All you can do is react to it and try and make it positive for the future. That’s kind of how I’m looking at it. I think the players, they’re resilient. They know Miami football is going to be here a lot longer than I’m going to be here or they’re going to be here. It’s just a privilege for us to be on this team right now.”

 

On if he has seen any player step up in light of the news of player dismissals…

“I don’t think so. I think everybody is trying to do their job, like they’ve been doing all along. It’s not like all of a sudden a bunch of guys are getting opportunities now. Everybody has been getting repetitions – our number one defense, our number two defense. We’re still giving reps to our number three offense and defense. We’re going to do that all year long, because we want to keep developing young players.  Sometimes a guy will go on a scout team, and he never gets a meaningful rep in the offensive system or defensive system. We try to always keep giving those guys opportunities to get better. I saw nothing extraordinary, and no one needs to do anything extraordinary. They just need to do their job and take care of their business.”

 

On if there is anything he has to guard against in playing an FCS opponent…

“I don’t look at it that way. When I approach any opponent, I watch the film, I look at the scheme that they’re in, I look at our offensive system, we look at our defensive system and we schematically try to figure out what gives us the best chance to win. Then start practicing against those looks, and you start trying to execute. Our goal every day is to execute whatever is in front of us. Our goal every day is to try and get better. We don’t try to think much about that – I know I don’t. Maybe closer to the game, there might be something to be said, I can’t remember ever being in a first game of the year and everybody is not excited. They can’t wait to play. I don’t care who they play. I don’t think I have to say anything other than, ‘Do your job.”

 

On if he can remember having a unit as young as his 2016 linebacker unit…

“Not really. I don’t have the best memory, but that’s a key spot, no doubt. The heart of your defense and you’ve got a bunch of freshmen in there? Again, thank goodness for mid-year enrollees. Really, thank goodness for our former staff that recruited those guys and got them excited about being Hurricanes and pretty much had them in the boat. Those guys were committed before I showed up, that’s for sure. We just tried not to mess it up. There was great work by the former coaching staff to get three quality guys like that in the same class, and to go through what you have to go through to become a mid-year enrollee, I can’t tell you how crucial that was to give us a feeling that it gives us a chance with young guys.”

 

On what Malik Rosier did to win the back-up quarterback job, and where Evan Shirreffs stands…

“Evan did have an injury on his throwing hand in the middle of camp. It didn’t help his accuracy. Malik, at this point, has begun to figure me out, and do it the way I ask to do it every single snap. Show me that you know what to do. Show me that you know how to get us in the right place. Show me that you know the right progression, and you can hit your target, and you can make good decisions when something blows up in front of you, that you don’t just throw the ball up for grabs. He has really improved quite a bit in that area. He has some good athleticism, I think he can be a guy that you can put a little quarterback run on, design a little quarterback for him. That helps him as well. It also helps he’s our second-team holder. Shirreffs and [Vincent] Testaverde right now are more of a battle right now for No. 3 [spot]. I think Malik has separated himself as the No. 2.”

 

On if defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is gameplanning different due to the player dismissals…

“We didn’t change anybody as far as positions. We didn’t say all of a sudden, ‘You’re a defensive end and you used to be [a linebacker].’ We didn’t do that. But you have to get more guys reps with the one unit, then you have to decide how much base defense you’ll play, how much nickel defense you’ll play. Jermaine [Grace] was a guy who ran well enough to where, is he a SAM linebacker or is he a nickel? He had a skillset that you really were in both at the same time, because he had a pretty good skillet to cover some people as well. It’ll probably be a little more defined for us now, whether we’re in base defense or nickel.”


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