This morning I had the chance to attend the 2009 Peach State Pigskin Preview at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon. For those unfamiliar with the event, the folks at the Hall invite each of the head coaches from Georgia's several college football programs to come to Macon each June to answer one or two (or a hundred) questions about the upcoming season. I suspect it's also an opportunity for sportswriters and bloggers to binge on content, engorging ourselves on enough football news and quotes to carry us through the lean times until August arrives. If this is the purpose behind the event, God bless them for that.
Here's everything I learned that's not UGA -related, per se. I put this stuff first because otherwise you guys wouldn't read it. Actually, you'll probably just scroll down to the juicy stuff anyway, but here goes.
Georgia State coach Bill Curry had to set up his own table. It was one of the few tables that didn't have a nice shiny helmet, and there were no football players manning the booth because, technically, Georgia State doesn't have any yet. Curry said that he wouldn't have taken a coaching job anywhere else, and that his wife was thrilled because it would give her husband a chance to "do what he already knows how to do and she wouldn't have to move." Sounds like Mrs. Curry must listen to Mike & Mike in the Morning.
Curry also said that he's relied on advice from Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger, with whom he and his staff have a weekly teleconference. Close your eyes and picture that for a moment. Who wouldn't want to be a fly on the wall for those little meetings? I bet the heady mixture of scotch and crazy makes coaches dizzy on both ends of the line. It is also impossible to get Bill Curry to answer the question you ask him. He chooses instead to answer his own questions, often by way of stories about his youth in Atlanta or his time in the NFL. If this were Panthersports.com, I would be annoyed by this. As it is Dawgsports.com, I figure it's not my problem. Instead it is mildly entertaining.
Georgia Southern coach Chris Hatcher, in addition to being the first coach we ever did a "Getting to Know . . ." feature on, is also a genuinely nice guy. I walked to the event area with him and had a great conversation about his playing days at Mount De Sales Academy in Macon.
David Hale was willing to allow a dirty, filthy blogger to step into his questioning from time to time. That David has good manners should not be a surprise to anyone who reads his blog. It probably is a delight for his mother as well. However, if Hale were a pitcher, you should know that he would definitely be more Randy Johnson than Greg Maddux. I think the only two questions of the morning which Coach Richt all but refused to answer were delivered by the flamethrower from Macon by way of the 'Cuse.
Terance Moore was not in attendance. For this I wept.
If you ever find yourself in Macon and need an air conditioned place to kill some time, go to the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. It's truly a lot of fun, with interactive displays and seven tons of cool memorabilia covering the history of amateur and professional athletics in the state. And it's right across the street from the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, which is equally fun. While there I saw the shirt Larry Mize wore when he chipped in to win the 1987 Masters, the first black Atlanta Falcons helmet (a gift to the Hall from Jerry Glanville), and Bill Stanfill's Miami Dolphins shoulder pads.
Claude Felton has a well-earned reputation as one of the premier Sports Information Directors in the business. True to form, he submitted Georgia's list of attendees (Mark Richt, Rod Battle and Vince Vance) a full month before the event. As of yesterday, a majority of the other schools in the state still hadn't provided a roster of attendees. That's right, Claude Felton is literally a month ahead of the rest of us. That's either a warning or a reassurance. Maybe both.
Paul Johnson of Georgia Tech made it, albeit a few minutes late. I didn't ask him anything, largely because he looked about as happy to be there as a long-tailed cat in a rocking chair factory.
Now, the Bulldog football-related content from today:
Vince Vance told me that he's "at least 90%" healed from offseason knee surgery. In fact, other than Josh Davis, who may miss time at the start of the season because of two shoulder surgeries, Vance says the entire offensive line is full strength. He's not sure where he'll play, though the roster we were given (more on that later) lists him as the 3rd string left tackle. Vance also noted that Coach Searels expects him to be able to play anywhere on the offensive line given his experience.
I asked Vince if there was one defensive lineman who he knows will give him a workout every snap. While he wouldn't give me the name of any opposing players, he did say that Geno Atkins is one guy who can be counted on to come after you every snap. That shouldn't be a big surprise to 'Dawg fans at this point.
Rod Battle also seems to be in fine form. He pronounced himself ready to get back to his true form after a 2008 hampered by injuries. He said he's currently at about 260 pounds, which is where he would like to play at. Battle also talked a little about his major, Sports Management, and how the folks from the Athletic Association occasionally come to classes to talk about the reasons for some decisions that they make.
Obviously, there's no use being a blogger at this sort of shindig if you're not going to ask some off-the-wall questions. So I asked Battle what his favorite pass rushing technique is. Answer: "It depends on the offensive lineman. Whatever will work against that guy I do." A utilitarian after my own heart.
Rod also confirmed Kyle's theorem of nonconference scheduling, telling me that when you open with a team like Oklahoma State, "you know that you can't lose focus during the summer."
But without a doubt, Coach Richt was the star of the event. The phalanx of cameras and tape recorders surrounding him was as thick as Lou Holtz's lisp. As usual, Coach Richt gave out just enough information, but not to much. In case you haven't noticed, Mark Richt navigates interviews like a man who plays golf with nothing but a 3 iron, a pitching wedge and a putter: he never goes too far, never swings for the fences, and is always right down the middle. Oh yeah, and he's probably silently laughing at the guy who just wrapped his oversized driver around a sweet gum tree. He quipped this morning that given his recent comments regarding the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, he's "trying really hard to be bland and neutral" these days. For the most part, he was successful.
A few examples of the melodiously bland, yet still informative, stylings of Mark Richt:
On the importance of getting and staying healthy during fall camp: "its a big momentum boost just to have so many guys back [from injury], and to get in the new freshmen."
On Joe Cox: I asked Coach Richt if having a fifth year senior makes a difference in what the offensive staff can do. He pointed out that it's been 3 years since they were really able to open up the playbook because in 2006 Stafford was a true freshman, in 2007 he had some experience but was playing behind a young offensive line, and in 2008 he was experienced but playing behind a patchwork group. This year will be the first since 2005 in which we've had a veteran offensive front and a veteran quarterback.
He also noted that people forget that D.J. Shockley's last game before he took the reins was a disappointing showing in the rain against Georgia Tech in 2004 when David Greene hurt his throwing hand. Perhaps because of that, Shockley had more doubters going into 2005's opener against Boise State than Joe Cox does now.
On his offseason plans: The Richts now have a lake house on Lake Hartwell, and Coach Richt plans to commute from there to Athens this summer. Unlike last year, he won't be doing any overseas mission trips or tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. He said that by the time the season started last year he was already tired, so the schedule will be less demanding.
On opening with a tough opponent like Oklahoma State as opposed to a 1-AA team: Coach Richt "expect[s] that we'll be an underdog." He also thinks that this game will be bigger than last year's Arizona State game because there will be fewer national story lines at the beginning of the season, and because Oklahoma State will likely be highly ranked.
On whether Orson Charles will work at tight end, receiver, or both: He could do both, but will be primarily a tight end. He's "probably in the 230 range" now, and along with Artie Lynch (who's up to 260 lb.) looks like a 3rd or 4th year player in the weightroom. Aron White is the clearcut starter at tight end right now, but Charles, according to Coach Richt, "will be without question the fastest tight end we've got."
On the tailback situation: An interesting quote from Coach Richt that you're sure to hear from several media folks in the next few days: "I think that a lot of peope have maybe read between the lines that we're not real happy with what Caleb's doing. That's not true at all. I'm very pleased with Caleb's progress. Caleb has become an outstanding pass portector. He understands the system better. He's an outstanding runner. He's done extremely well and he's still a relatively young guy in his career." Translation: You can talk about other guys all you want, but Caleb King's your starting tailback.
Coach Richt also said that Richard Samuel is all but completely healed from offseason surgery, and will be 100% when fall camp starts. The coaches also think Kalvin Daniels is doing a nice job.
On how important it is to have a veteran offensive line: Coach Richt said that the offensive line going 2 deep should make everybody better. Noted that Vince Vance and Clint Boling have been obvious leaders through the spring and into the summer. That's important since the coaches can't be there to instruct during this time of year, and rely on their team leaders for that.
On directional kicking: One of the zingers that I wasn't about to throw. Luckily David Hale did it for me, asking Coach Richt if he'd had a chance to see Rex Robinson's recent opus on directional kicking. Not surprisingly, he hadn't. But he did say that he's generally more concerned with covering the kick properly than with where the kick actually goes, and Georgia has to do a better job of that.
I'll be back tomorrow with more from the Pigskin Preview. Until then . . .