Georgia Bulldogs: SEC

SEC's lunch links

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
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Let them eat a late lunch!

SEC lunchtime links

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
12:00
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The tax man cometh ...
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Try as he might, Georgia running back Todd Gurley just couldn’t find his legs.

The usual sledgehammer of a player -- so used to ramming through and trampling defenders – felt frail and out of shape during his first few spring practices. That came after he returned from complications stemming from a nagging ankle injury that plagued him for most of the 2013 season.

“The first three practices, every time somebody touched me I kept falling to the ground,” Gurley told ESPN.com last week. “… My legs were just weak.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTodd Gurley shook off some spring woes and plans on being a more vocal leader going forward.
“It was frustrating. Every time I tried to do a move or cut, somebody would just touch me and I’d just fall to the ground. I probably fell at least, like, 10 times in those first three practices.”

Gurley, who has rushed for 2,374 career yards in two seasons with the Bulldogs, is a tank whose human side has failed him at times. He was held out of postseason workouts and drills as he tried to recover from a 15-inch high ankle sprain he originally suffered at the end of September in a back-and-forth win over LSU.

“That game, I felt perfect,” Gurley said with a hint of bitterness in his tone. “I felt perfect running and I was the right size and [had the right] speed. I felt like I was going to have one of the best games of my life. When it happened, I was like, ‘Dang.’”

Gurley missed three straight games after that -- a stretch in which Georgia went 1-2 -- and hasn’t been 100 percent since. A leaner Gurley hobbled into spring practice, but eyebrows were raised at the sense that Gurley wasn’t pushing himself hard enough and that his desire wasn’t there.

“The really great players, they have to love to practice,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.

“None of [them] has arrived. You have to work. You’re either going to get better or worse every day; you’re not going to stay the same. Him going out there and trying to get better every day is going to make him and us better.”

Gurley admits his energy was lacking. Spring practice wasn’t pressing or exciting. But the coaches needed more from Gurley, and a conversation between Gurley and head coach Mark Richt a week before the Bulldogs’ spring game helped deliver that.

“Even though he may feel that way, he still has to give effort on a daily basis to become great,” Richt said of Gurley’s early spring attitude. “Those were some of the things we talked about, and he was awesome with it and did well.”

Gurley showed more effort during the final week, pushing his two-hour practices to the limit, before capping the spring with 70 total yards of offense and a touchdown in Georgia’s spring game. His touches were limited, but he ran with fire and purpose. He pounded his teammates and fought for extra yards.

“Everything’s starting to get better, slowly but surely,” Gurley said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been healthy, but it’s slowly getting there.”

When Gurley is at his best, he’s in a class of his own. It’s rare for someone with his size (6-foot-1, 232 pounds) to cut and explode like he does. Gurley punishes defenders with his strength and embarrasses them with his moves and breakaway speed. He’d easily have more than just 13 career 100-plus-yard rushing games if his body would cooperate.

But Gurley’s physical side is only part of what could make him a truly special back. The way he carries himself and how he instructs those around him will go a long way as well.

This spring, his coaches pushed him to bring more energy and leadership. More of a leader by example, Gurley said he opened his mouth this spring. He got more serious and wanted to make sure younger players followed him for the right reasons.

“This Todd is doing a better job of leading,” quarterback Hutson Mason said. “We feel like as long as he’s in shape, he’s healthy and he’s strong, he’s the best back in the country.”

Aaron Murray is gone. Keith Marshall’s status is still up in the air after that devastating ACL injury. The spotlight is fixed on Gurley more than ever before, and he says he’s ready to shine even brighter in a year that could be his last in Athens.

That idea has served as a distraction. Gurley equates this upcoming season to his senior year in high school when some around him told him not to work as hard because he was already headed to college. Save his body, they said.

It makes sense to some, but that’s not Gurley’s concern, he said. He doesn’t want to take time or plays off to save up for the NFL. Gurley has more to prove. He wants more yards. He wants records. And he wants wins and at least one championship.

Resting won’t bring any of that.

“That’s never been the case for me,” Gurley said. “The NFL isn’t going anywhere. It’s not like I’m going to be getting drafted [this fall]. I just have to make sure I’m focused on now and getting better every day so that can help me out for my future and basically doing it for my team.”
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Once again, Georgia took home the victory on G-Day.

The Bulldogs' annual spring game ended with the Red Team, comprised mostly of the first-team offense, defeating the Black Team, headed by most of the first-team defense, 27-24 in front of an announced crowd of 46,073 inside Sanford Stadium.

You can learn only so much from spring games, but there are always some nuggets here and there that you can take away from them.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsHutson Mason looked in full command of the offense in Georgia's spring game.
Here are five things we learned from Georgia's G-Day:

1. Mason looks pretty comfortable: It's easy when the quarterback isn't getting hit, but Hutson Mason looked very comfortable on Saturday. He was quick with his delivery, very accurate and very sharp. Again, he wasn't asked to do too much, but you can tell that he's more than comfortable running coordinator Mike Bobo's offense. I mean, he has been there for what feels like a decade now, so he better be. Even without some of his best targets in Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley (both were out this spring recovering from ACL injuries), he didn't skip a beat, as he passed for 241 yards and a touchdown on 18 of 27. "I felt good about my accuracy and my completions," Mason said. "Just wish I would have thrown the deep ball a little better."

2. Floyd and Johnson could be a solid combo: There's no question that Georgia's defense still needs a lot of work. The secondary had its issues and the defensive line is still looking for more playmakers. But one thing that really stood out on Saturday was the play of defensive lineman Toby Johnson and linebacker Leonard Floyd. Both required constant double teams on Saturday. We all knew Floyd had the potential to be a very, very special player, and he constantly harassed the Red Team's quarterbacks. He finished with six tackles and broke up two passes. Floyd can play with his hand down when the Dawgs are in a 4-3 formation or at outside linebacker in a 3-4. As for Johnson, he could be one to watch for the Dawgs this year. He made his way to the quarterback early and often in the game before the Black Team's line adjusted to put an extra body on him. Still, he was able to break through even with that extra set of arms to battle.

3. Gurley ran with purpose: There has been plenty of talk this spring about running back Todd Gurley's toughness, but he didn't look like he was holding back on Saturday. While he was limited to just six rushes (32 yards and a touchdown) and caught three passes (38 yards), Gurley was trying his hardest to bowl guys over. Coach Mark Richt sat Gurley down earlier in the spring to talk about his toughness and his practice habits, and it clearly paid off. Gurley didn't look hesitant, despite still not being 100 percent with nagging ankle issues. We don't know if Gurley will ever truly be healthy at Georgia, but it's a good sign that he doesn't have an issue playing through pain. He just wanted to deliver it Saturday.

4. Battle for No. 2 continues: Mason is clearly Georgia's starting quarterback, but the fight behind him should be a fun one for the months to come. It's down to redshirt sophomore Faton Bauta and redshirt freshman Brice Ramsey. On Saturday, Bauta was the more impressive of the two, passing for 232 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Ramsey, who suited up for both teams, finished with 78 total yards and an interception on 2 of 13 passing. While Ramsey wasn't as accurate as he'd like to be, he has a cannon of an arm and might have the most arm talent on the team. He just has to get that thing under control before he can take another step in the process. "I obviously could have thrown it a lot better, but at the same time I feel good about my performance," Ramsey said. "I was picking up blitzes, making the right reads. I just need to put the ball on. I had a bad day throwing." As for Bauta, he shed the black non-contact jersey in order to take some contact and finish plays after defenders got their hands on him. He was certainly a lot more efficient than Ramsey, but he said he knows that he can't slow down when it comes to winning this job before the fall.

5. The secondary has a ways to go: New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will have his hands full with Georgia's secondary. A unit that surrendered 227 passing yards per game and 18 touchdowns last year showed some of the same issues it had last season during the spring game. Now, injuries to guys like Tray Matthews and J.J. Green, who was at running back last year, contributed to that, but the offenses were able to make too many big plays in the passing game. If not for a couple of overthrown deep balls, the offenses could have put up a few more points. It didn't help that the defenses were called for six pass interference penalties with half of the starting receivers out. Six players averaged 15 or more yards per reception against the secondary on Saturday. "We're getting better," cornerback Damian Swann said. "Everything that happened today can be fixed, and that's why you have games like this. ... I think we did pretty good as a secondary."

SEC lunchtime links

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
12:00
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Plenty going on as spring practices continue in the SEC. We have pro days, coaching talk, players adapting to new positions and even reality TV news in today's lunch links:

SEC's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
12:00
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Ten of the Top 25 tailgating schools reside in the SEC, including all of the top six. Does this surprise anyone?

SEC's lunch links

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
12:00
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The SEC has been pumping out internet memes lately. Over the weekend there was Gene Chizik staring down his daughter's prom date. Then during Monday night's basketball national championship game, rapper Drake's many sports allegiances (Kentucky among them) were on display. Oh, and the kid Cats lost to UConn and then acted like they'd never heard of the NBA draft.

Let's swim back into the friendlier waters of SEC football, shall we?

SEC's lunch links

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
12:00
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There were 80 fires put out and 21 arrests in Lexington on Saturday night after Kentucky defeated Wisconsin to reach Monday night's college basketball national championship game. Whatever happened to "Act like you've been there before?"

SEC's lunchtime links

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
12:00
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LSU and Ole Miss will hold their spring games on Saturday, with six more teams set to play their games next Saturday. As spring practice winds to a close at many of the schools around the conference, let's take a look at some of today's headlines.

SEC's lunchtime links

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
12:15
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It's not exactly like the fall, but at least we'll have some football (spring) games this weekend. Let's take a quick spin around the SEC and see what's happening as the final spring scrimmages approach at some of the league's schools.
Every year it seems there is a battle within a battle in SEC recruiting. It's a game of one-upmanship in which schools look to get the most attention with new and creative ways to sell their program.

A couple of years ago, Alabama overloaded the mailbox of running back Alvin Kamara with 105 letters in one day. It worked, as today Kamara is on the Crimson Tide roster. Such success often results in copycat maneuvers, as Tennessee followed suit a year ago with athlete Stanton Tuitt (who ultimately chose to sign with Auburn).

SEC recruiters have shown that there is little they won't do. From singing karaoke to sending pictures, photoshopped images, puzzles and more. This is serious business.

Now Georgia has hit on the latest in a long line of eye-catching recruiting pitches. The Bulldogs have sent hand-drawn portraits to prospects with a personal note from coach Mark Richt included. There was speculation Richt had drawn the pictures, but safety Rashad Roundtree was told by Georgia coaches that somebody working in the Dawgs’ football office had drawn the portraits. Four-star linebacker Roquan Smith was told the same thing.

“It was really cool,” said Roundtree, who has Georgia among his leaders and also has scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Ohio State, South Carolina and others. “Only a few people got them. A lot of other mail is just stats and posters, but it’s nice to see something different. It made me feel one-of-a-kind.”

Smith, who has offers from more than 20-plus schools and lists Georgia among his leaders, said the portrait was the “most creative thing” he’s received in the mail and speaks volumes to how important he is to the Dawgs.

“To have them take their time to have somebody do that for me was great,” he said. “I loved it. It shows they take time out for their recruits.”

In the dog-eat-dog world of recruiting in the SEC, schools jockey to differentiate themselves when communicating with prospects. Most elite recruits receive around 50 letters a day from schools all over the country, but Georgia has done something that has caught the attention of recruits and separate itself from the other schools.

One rival SEC assistant coach said he wished he thought of the portraits and immediately sent his recruiting staff to come up with something “better.”

Have a look:


AUBURN, Ala. -- There wasn’t much fire in the voice of Gus Malzahn as he stood at the podium following Auburn’s first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. All told, it was a pretty boring scene. No injuries to report. No position changes to speak of. Only one turnover and a handful of big plays. His team had to move indoors because of the threat of rain, but as he said, “It didn’t bother us a bit.”

Watching Malzahn, you got the feeling he wasn’t playing coy. This was the difference a year makes. Last spring was an anxious time for Auburn. There was no quarterback, no depth chart and no sense of expectations. Malzahn and Co. were simply trying to pick up the pieces left behind from the previous staff.

This spring has a much different tone. All one needed to do was look at the long-sleeve, collared shirt Malzahn wore after practice, the one with the SEC championship patch on its left shoulder. The building phase of Malzahn’s tenure is over. The questions are much fewer this year than the last. And with that, the sense of urgency is far more diminished.

“We've got more information now, so we're not as urgent,” Malzahn said. “We pretty much know a lot about the guys returning.”

Not every coach in the SEC is in the same enviable position.

“You've also got to keep in mind next year," Malzahn said. "You want to get your guys as much reps as you can moving forward for next year, because that's what it's all about ... but I would say, probably, for the most part, that we've got guys in the position that we want them to be in."

Not every coach can afford to look ahead this spring. Not every coach has the time.

With that said, let’s take a look at the programs with the most to accomplish this spring, ranking all 14 schools by the length of their to-do list.

Vanderbilt: Any new coaching staff has the most work to do, from determining the roster to installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. Throw in a new starting quarterback and the raid James Franklin put on the recruiting class, and it adds up to an enormously important spring for Derek Mason.

Kentucky: Mark Stoops has done a lot to turn around the culture at Kentucky. In fact, veteran defensive end Alvin Dupree said it feels like more of a football school now. But the fact remains that Stoops has a very young group to deal with, so inexperienced that true freshman Drew Barker is in contention to start at quarterback.

Tennessee: The Vols are facing many of the same challenges in Year 2 under Butch Jones. He has brought in a wealth of talent, including a remarkable 14 early enrollees. Considering the Vols lost all of their starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, there’s a lot of work to do.

Florida: The hot seat knows no reason. All is good in Gator Land right now as a new offense under a new coordinator is installed, injured players -- including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- return, and expectations creep upward. But a bad showing in the spring game could change the conversation quickly for Will Muschamp.

Arkansas: There’s nowhere to go but up for Bret Bielema after a 3-9 finish his first year with the program. The good news is he has young playmakers on offense (Hunter Henry, Alex Collins, etc.). The bad news is the quarterback position is unsettled and his defensive coaching staff is almost entirely overhauled from a year ago.

LSU: A depth chart full of question marks is nothing new for Les Miles, who has endured plenty of underclassmen leaving for the NFL before. But missing almost every skill player on offense (Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry) hurts. He has to find replacements at several key positions, and we haven’t even gotten into the defense.

Texas A&M: Cedric Ogbuehi can replace Jake Matthews at left tackle. The combination of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil can replace Mike Evans at receiver. But who replaces the legend of Johnny Football? Determining a starter under center won’t be easy, but neither will be overhauling a defense that was far and away the worst in the SEC last year.

Georgia: Jeremy Pruitt should breathe some new life into a struggling Georgia defense. Having Hutson Mason to replace Aaron Murray helps as well. But off-the-field problems continue to plague Mark Richt’s program. With stars such as Todd Gurley, the players are there. The pieces just need to come together.

Missouri: After 13 seasons in Columbia, Gary Pinkel knows how to handle the spring. Maty Mauk appears ready to take over for James Franklin at quarterback, and even with the loss of Henry Josey, there are still plenty of weapons on offense. The real challenge will be on defense, where the Tigers must replace six starters, including cornerstones E.J. Gaines, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.

Alabama: The quarterback position won’t be settled this spring, so we can hold off on that. But still, Nick Saban faces several challenges, including finding two new starters on the offensive line, replacing C.J. Mosley on defense and completely overhauling a secondary that includes Landon Collins and a series of question marks.

Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has his players. Now he just has to develop them. With emerging stars Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, there’s plenty to build around. Include a veteran starting quarterback in Bo Wallace and there’s a lot to feel good about in Oxford.

Mississippi State: It’s a new day in the state of Mississippi as both state institutions have high expectations this spring. Mississippi State returns a veteran defense, a solid offensive line and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who could turn into a Heisman Trophy contender. A few months after Dan Mullen was on the hot seat, he now appears to be riding high.

Auburn: Losing Tre Mason and Greg Robinson hurts, but outside of those two stars, the roster remains fairly intact. Nick Marshall figures to improve as a passer, the running back corps is well off, and the receivers stand to improve with the addition of D’haquille Williams. The defense should get better as youngsters such as Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson gain experience.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier would like to remind everyone that Dylan Thompson was the only quarterback in the country to beat Central Florida last season. Sure, Thompson wasn’t the full-time starter last year, but he has plenty of experience and is ready to be the man. Throw in a healthy and eager Mike Davis and an improving set of skill players, and the offense should improve. The defense has some making up to do on the defensive line, but there’s no reason to panic, considering the rotation they used last year.

SEC's lunch links

April, 1, 2014
Apr 1
12:00
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College football's most high-profile head coach weighed in on the Northwestern players' bid to unionize yesterday. Nick Saban said after practice at Alabama that players should be compensated and deserve a voice in what happens. Are we seeing the beginning of a movement, the start of a never-ending legal process or both? Whatever it is, it's moving along as the next step is Washington, D.C.

SEC lunchtime links

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
2:20
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We hope you're grabbing a late lunch and can catch up on the goings on around the SEC. Unfortunately we slept in a bit -- we blame the weekend's fantastic college basketball action -- and we're running just a touch behind. So without further delay, here's some reading material for your day.

Pruitt has UGA defense on move

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
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ATHENS, Ga. -- When Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt watched film of his new team’s first spring practice last month, he wasn’t very encouraged by what he saw.

Pruitt and the Bulldogs’ other defensive assistants counted 147 “loafs,” in which Georgia’s defenders didn’t run to the ball, finish a play or hustle until the whistle.

“The first practice we were like deer in headlights,” outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “We didn’t know what to expect or what the coaches wanted.”

[+] EnlargeJeremy Pruitt
AP Photo/Jason GetzNew defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt says the players are adapting to his system with a good attitude.
While Georgia’s players might have been surprised by the pace and structure of their first spring practice under Pruitt, they adjusted to the new staff’s expectations with surprising quickness. Pruitt said he counted only 13 “loafs” in the second practice.

“The kids have good attitudes,” said Pruitt, who left Florida State for UGA in January after helping lead the Seminoles to a BCS national championship last season. “They’re trying to do what we’re asking them to do. We’re doing things a little different in terms of how we practice and finish. They’re doing a good job.”

In the first two weeks of spring practice, Pruitt has made it clear that Georgia’s defense will operate differently, at least in how it practices and prepares. Bulldogs fans can only hope that the changes lead to better on-the-field results this coming season.

Last year, Georgia’s defense ranked tied for 78th in scoring defense (29 points per game), 45th in total defense (375.5 yards), 41st in run defense (148.2 yards) and 84th in pass-efficiency defense (134.7 rating). Worse, the Bulldogs generated only 15 turnovers, tied with Kentucky for second-fewest in the SEC and 109th nationally.

Along with myriad injuries on offense, Georgia’s woeful defense caused it to limp to an 8-5 finish in 2013 after a promising start in which it defeated South Carolina and LSU, which were each ranked No. 6 nationally at the time. In four regular-season losses, UGA’s defense allowed an average of 38 points.

“They lost a lot of guys from the 2012 defense,” Pruitt said. “Some of the young guys were forced into roles they weren’t ready for. It’s no fault of their own or the coaches. They were the best guys here.”

Pruitt, a native of Rainsville, Ala., surprised a lot of people when he left FSU for UGA after only one season. Last season, FSU’s defense ranked first nationally in scoring defense (12.1 points), second in pass-efficiency defense (93.8 rating), third in total defense (281.4 yards) and 18th in rushing defense (124.8 yards). Pruitt, who was a finalist for the Broyles Award as the sport’s top assistant coach last season, replaced Todd Grantham, who left UGA for Louisville.

“To me, I’ve always wanted to coach in the SEC,” Pruitt said. “Once I got to college, that’s where I wanted to be. I think Georgia is a fantastic job and opportunity. I loved Florida State. They’re great people, and it’s a great place. But I just thought this would be a really good challenge.”

There's good news and bad news for Pruitt. The good news is that UGA brings back nine defensive starters from a year ago. The bad news is that not everyone returns. Defensive end Garrison Smith exhausted his eligibility, and free safety Josh Harvey-Clemons was dismissed from the team in February for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Earlier this month, sophomore safety Tray Matthews and three other players were arrested and charged with misdemeanor theft by deception for allegedly cashing university-issued checks twice. UGA coach Mark Richt hasn’t yet announced punishment for the accused players.

Pruitt doesn’t yet know what led to so many defensive breakdowns at UGA last season. In Georgia’s 43-38 loss at Auburn, its defense allowed a 73-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-18 with 25 seconds to play. In a 24-19 loss to Nebraska in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl, the Bulldogs surrendered a 99-yard touchdown pass on third-and-14.

“The big thing is we gave up way too many big plays last year,” Pruitt said. “Whether it was in the run game or the throw game, there were too many mistakes. We’ve got to do a better job of rotating in the secondary, where it’s a 7-yard gain instead of a 25-yard gain if the ball spits out of there. If we do that, we’ll make the offense work harder and have to earn it.”

[+] EnlargeJonathan Krause, Ramik Wilson
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Ramik Wilson, last year's leading tackler, figures to be a cornerstone for Jeremy Pruitt's revamped defense.
The strength of Georgia’s defense this coming season figures to be its linebacker corps. Senior inside linebacker Ramik Wilson led the SEC with 133 tackles last season, and Jenkins and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd combined for 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss.

Georgia’s secondary, which was plagued by communication breakdowns last season, remains a work in progress. Incoming freshmen Malkom Parrish, Dominick Sanders and Shaquille Jones might be asked to contribute right away, along with Shattle Fenteng, the No. 1 juco cornerback, according to ESPN RecruitingNation.

Pruitt figures to use more four-man fronts than Grantham did, although he prefers smaller, quicker linemen than what UGA had last season.

Pruitt hopes the faster pace in practice will help UGA’s conditioning.

“It’s a lot more up-tempo,” Wilson said. “We’re running more, and they’re trying to bring in more passion and effort. [Pruitt] is making the point that he’s going to play the best 11 guys out there. It’s a lot more intense.”

Said Jenkins, “The tempo is a lot faster and people are moving a lot faster. There’s no more watching. I feel like we have a sense of urgency now. We’re a lot more aggressive. Everybody is trying to make plays.”

Georgia fans will have to wait until Aug. 30, when the Bulldogs open the season against Clemson at Sanford Stadium, to learn whether last year’s growing pains will pay dividends this coming season.

“Our guys are learning how we want them to practice,” Pruitt said. “They’re trying to finish and trying to do what we ask them to do. We’re going to have to play with a lot of toughness and effort. We’re going to have to make fewer mental mistakes. That’s how we’re going to play this year. That’s our focus -- effort, toughness and eliminating mental errors.”

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With already more than 100 ranked prospects committed, assistant coaches nationwide have been hard at work on the recruiting trail. National recruiting reporter Jeremy Crabtree joins Phil Murphy to rank the best among them.Tags: B.J. Anderson, Texas A&M Aggies, Jeremy Pruitt, Georgia Bulldogs, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Phil Murphy, Jeremy Crabtree
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