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Mark Richt Sees Opportunity On Defense, Wants You To Acknowledge "Gurshall's" Individuality.

As in the past, Dawg Sports was on hand Tuesday morning at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon for the annual Pigskin Preview event. Coaches and players from every collegiate program in the state of Georgia were on hand to answer questions about everything from preseason expectations to favorite video games. Here's a brief sampling of what went down.


The highlight of this event, barring unexpected medical or legal news, is generally the release of the post-spring depth chart. This year there weren't a lot of huge surprises, but there were some items of note. Merritt Hall is once again listed as the starter at fullback, but of perhaps more note is that Quayvon Hicks is still listed behind him. There had been a lot of speculation this spring that Hicks might wind up at defensive end. James Deloach is holding onto a starting spot at outside linebacker in front of Chase Vasser. More and more Deloach is looking like one of the real steals of that 2012 class. True freshman Reggie Carter is backing Amarlo Herrera up on the inside.

Michael Bennett is once again listed as a starting wide receiver, perhaps signaling his expected return from the knee injury that knocked him out last season. Finally, another of the freshman Reggies, Reggie Wilkinson. is listed behind Damian Swann at the boundary corner position, so expect to see him in the rotation against Clemson at the end of August.

Coach Richt was on hand in his customary dark suit and red tie. Really if there's any football coach in the state who looks like he's about to try to sell you some mutual funds and a term life insurance policy, it's the head Bulldog.

He seems to have memorized that old saw about the Chinese words for "crisis" and "opportunity" being one and the same. While that trope is of dubious legitimacy, Coach Richt is still accentuating the positive regarding the red and black's losses on defense, noting:

"There probably are more positions for guys to take. There are more guys who believe they can play than we've had in a long time. That generates a lot of excitement and energy."

Coach Richt singled out JUCO transfer Jonothan Rumph as one of those guys who could seize playing time:

"Until you know what you're doing you can't play fast. . .He came in at receiver at midyear and he was just learning. He couldn't really play full speed and now he's in better condition and he knows better what to do, and we figure he's gonna really have a strong camp considering that he has the experience that he gained coming here in January."

On a side note, Malcolm Mitchell also mentioned Rumph as a guy to watch, saying that even though he isn't as physical as, say. a Marlon Brown, he's capable of going up and getting the ball with his superior height.

One of the more "inside baseball" aspects of the college game is the annual sharing of ideas among college and pro coaches, who visit other staffs every summer looking to trade ideas. In the past Coach Richt has talked in some detail about his staff's travels. Not this year. I asked him whether any coaches were leaving town (without asking specifically where they were going).

"I don't know if I need to make it public where we're going, not that people couldn't find out where we're going. We are taking those trips. A couple of our offensive coaches just got back from the Atlanta Falcons. . . I don't know if our staff really wants anyone to know where they've been. But we are doing that. We'll bring people in, too. You know Coach Grantham has a lot of NFL contact, so he'll bring a lot of guys in. A lot of times when you bring a guy in here's there and he's going to be able to facilitate anything that we want while he's in town. You go see somebody else and they might be in the middle of their work day and say 'hey go watch film for about three or four hours and then come back and we'll spend some time and talk. But if you fly 'em in you get 'em, you get their undivided attention. So we've had a lot of success with that.

I take from this that Mike Bobo spent some time this May in either a) Philadelphia with Chip Kelly, b) Lubbock with Kliff Kingsbury, or c) Pyongyang with Elvis. I'm not sure which, and I was afraid to press the issue.

On Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley's return for a second run of their zany act "Gurshall Goes To The Endzone":

I think the guys are wanting to get away from the Gurshall thing a little bit because they are two individual human beings. So I'm all for kind of breaking off that saying. But Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are two tremendous backs. And to consider where we were a year ago, to not really be sure what kind of a running attack we would have, our offensive line was really a question mark, and for those guys to rush for over 2000 yards combined and I don't even know how many touchdowns was more than we could have even dreamed of. And a lot of it had to do with their ability, obviously, but a lot of it had to do with the offensive line coming together.

You will recognize Todd Gurley's essential humanity, SEC football fans, no matter how inhumanely he treated your defense in 2012! Richt also noted that J.J. Green, A.J. Turman, and Brendan Douglas will be available this season to provide some added depth.

Finally, I had a chance to ask Coach Richt about a subject near and dear to my heart, recruiting offensive linemen. Coach Richt's eyes light up when you ask him questions like this, and Tuesday was no exception. On what he and his staff look for when they're looking for big uglies:

"The offensive line position is one that you really do have to draft and recruit off of potential. You're looking for a certain frame and a certain amount of athleticism, and you're looking for a guy who can think. I mean, our system is not simple. I think even though last year we weren't quite as 'pretty' as maybe the line the year before, but the one thing about this group of guys, all five really understood what we're doing. They can play in tandem extremely well."

"So with offensive linemen you have to project two, three, even four years down the road. If you get a guy who's a four year junior who plays and starts for two years you did pretty well. Every once in a while there's those freak guys who line up as a freshman and play for you, but for the most part you gotta develop 'em."

In non-Bulldog news:

Perhaps the best line of the day came from former Furman and current Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb, who said of his young squad (which will reopen Mercer's dormant football tradition against Reinhardt on August 31st) "I think they'll be alright if they can overcome their coaching."

At the barbecue lunch following the event Lamb planted a black and orange Mercer helmet in the center of the table occupied by Paul Johnson and the Georgia Tech contingent, then walked off chuckling. I like the cut of that man's jib,

Mercer announced last week that they'll be joining the I-AA Southern Conference, after having played in the D1-A Atlantic Sun in all sports except football, in which they had been set to join the non-scholarship Pioneer League. At this rate they'll be playing football in the ACC by Thanksgiving.

Did you know that former Boston College head coach Jeff Jagodzinski is the new offensive coordinator at Georgia State? Me neither, until it was pointed out by new GSU head coach Trent Miles.

As usual Georgia Southern head coach Jeff Monken looked ready to hit the practice field any moment.

Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson looks to have maybe lost a little weight since I last saw him. This lowered his jowel coefficient by 28%, for which I am heartbroken.

Former Valdosta State offensive coordinator and new Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon made a point of walking over to Coach Richt and thanking him for a phone call Richt had made to him. I have no idea what the call was about, but Bohannon appeared obviously, genuinely grateful.

I'll be back in the coming days with more from Tuesday's event, including exclusive interviews with Bulldogs Malcolm Mitchell and Damian Swann. Until later, take heart folks. Football is coming. It won't be long now.

Go 'Dawgs!!!