Georgia Bulldogs: Kirk Olivadotti

It appears as if Jeremy Pruitt will have the opportunity to build Georgia's defense according to his own vision. As of Wednesday night, he is the only defensive coach on the Bulldogs' staff.

Multiple media reports Wednesday night have defensive line coach Chris Wilson (leaving for USC) and inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti (going back to the Washington Redskins, where he previously spent 11 seasons as an assistant) joining defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and secondary coach Scott Lakatos as departures from Mark Richt's staff within the last week.

Richt said at Pruitt's introductory press conference on Wednesday morning that Wilson and Olivadotti would remain on staff “if they want to, and as of right now I think they want to.”

Obviously they decided otherwise, leaving Pruitt with three positions to fill. Pruitt will coach the secondary, but he and Richt must identify candidates to fill Grantham's position coaching outside linebackers as well as Wilson's line and Olivadotti's inside linebackers jobs.

In the short term, that might seem alarming for those around the Georgia program, but it no doubt holds some appeal for the Bulldogs' new defensive coordinator. Richt will allow Pruitt to have a major say in picking the new coaches -- if not allow him to hand select them -- much like he did when Grantham joined the staff in 2010 and brought along Lakatos and Warren Belin.

If Georgia is to take a step forward under the new regime, which shouldn't be difficult with 10 starters returning from a young group that ranked eighth in the SEC in total defense (375.5 ypg), it will be because Pruitt and Richt made the correct hires in the coming days and weeks.

Pruitt's arrival after an enormously successful season at Florida State was widely hailed as a home run for Richt, and that's a great start in rebuilding Georgia's defense. That's only the first step, though, and the Bulldogs need to swing for the fences three more times if the defense is to return to the suffocating form that marked the early seasons of Richt's tenure.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia has rotated defensive players much more extensively this season than in the recent past -- at most positions, anyway. One that stands as an exception is inside linebacker, where Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson played every defensive snap against South Carolina and all but a couple of plays in the opener against Clemson.

While Herrera and Wilson were the SEC's top two tacklers at the end of Week 2, Georgia's coaches recognize for a variety of reasons that filtering in some other players -- even for just a few plays here and there -- will be healthy.

[+] EnlargeAmarlo Herrera
AP Photo/John Bazemore)Amarlo Herrera hasn't missed many plays, which is a good thing for Georgia since he's been making big plays all season.
“The quality of the play I think is fine,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I'd just like to see us be able to give them a little bit of a rest and not take every snap. The other thing you do is you build a little bit of depth if you get some other guys in the game in case, God forbid, a guy got hurt and then you throw a guy in there who really hasn't had any snaps.

“So the goal, really, is just like everywhere else up front, everywhere else that we're subbing, is to keep guys fresher in the second half, fresher at the end of a game, at the end of a season.”

The problem with that proposition to this point is that the alternatives were all true freshmen. With top-10 teams on the opposite sideline in the first two games, the Bulldogs needed to minimize their risks as much as possible, and that meant relying heavily on the two junior linebackers.

They prepared for that likelihood in the offseason -- Herrera mentioned that as one of the reasons that he got himself in better shape and dropped weight since last season ended -- and believe it has helped them hold up through the grind of more than 130 defensive plays spread over two games.

“You're going to see 51 and 52 around the ball on every tackle. We're just bringing energy out there and trying to make a statement, trying to show these young guys how to play,” said Wilson, who has 22 tackles and a pass breakup thus far. “If you play fast, good things will happen. Like Amarlo, running to the ball made a fumble [against South Carolina's Connor Shaw]. And like me and them running to the ball on the goal-line stand. Just keep running and keep having effort and good things will happen.”

Nonetheless, Richt's point about keeping the veterans fresh is valid. The grind for Herrera and Wilson exists not only in games, but also in practices -- and defensive teammates realize that fatigue is a natural byproduct of that level of involvement.

Outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said he has even worked to learn the defensive calls that the inside linebackers would typically relay simply to reduce some of the burden on Herrera and Wilson.

“They rarely ever get breaks. I always look back at Amarlo and Ramik and that's really why I tried to learn some of their calls, so it would be easier for them, because they get tired,” Jenkins said. “People on the other side they have to run over there and repeat the call and sometimes they're really tired and you don't really hear it. So I tried to learn the defense to help them out because some practices when we go long and scrimmage and stuff, they're dog tired. I feel like it gets them ready for the game, but it's really asking a lot of them.”

The answer, of course, is for some of the youngsters to prove that they can function in the Bulldogs' defensive scheme without a drop-off in production.

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has repeatedly praised Reggie Carter and said Tim Kimbrough is improving to the point where he might play more scrimmage downs eventually. Saturday's nonconference game against North Texas could represent the first opportunity to truly evaluate without the risk of a missed assignment costing Georgia a victory.

Carter said he has prepared as if he would start all along, however.

“I look at it like when I go into a game, my game plan is as if I'm a starter,” Carter said. “I study the same amount of film. I try to have Coach [Kirk Olivadotti, Georgia's inside linebackers coach] get me ready as if I'm a starter.”

One thing that is clear is that Herrera now views himself as an every-down linebacker, although his reputation in his first two seasons was that he was a run-stopper who often left the field in passing situations.

“That's what people thought because I didn't get the chance to do it because they took me out,” said Herrera, who leads the team with 24 tackles and has 1.5 tackles for a loss. “But I can do it. I can do whatever I want to do. All you've got to do is just work hard and have a good work ethic.”

Grantham clearly agrees, noting last week that “He'll keep playing all the snaps.”

So at least for now, expect to see the veterans -- and Herrera in particular -- playing all of the important snaps at inside linebacker. As the season progresses, though, opportunities will certainly exist for the freshmen to steal some snaps once they prove they can perform as consistently as one of the veterans, if not better.

“I do see times with both of them where if a team gets a six-, seven-, eight-, nine-play drive, you can see them huffing and puffing pretty good. And you're going to get tired in a game after you're pursuing some quarterback on a scramble or whatever it is,” Richt said. “Cumulatively you can get run down in a game, you can get run down in a season, so I'm just hoping we can get a little bit more confidence in some guys to let them play.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Kirk Olivadotti paused last week when asked how many freshman inside linebackers he’d be comfortable playing before responding with a deadpan wisecrack.

“Shoot, I’ve still got two weeks, right?” Georgia’s inside linebackers coach said, breaking into a grin before elaborating on his initial reply.

[+] EnlargeReggie Carter
Tom HauckFreshman linebacker Reggie Carter could have a big role in the Bulldogs' defense in 2013.
“That’s what training camp and summer camp is all about is who you’re going to be comfortable with and what roles you’re going to be comfortable with them in,” Olivadotti added. “We’re still in that process right now, just figuring out exactly what guys are good at, what they need work on. You don’t have to be great at everything to help you win a football game.”

Those two weeks have trickled down to just more than one until the Bulldogs open the season at Clemson on Aug. 31. The coaches’ plan for the freshmen is starting to come into focus, although the positional pecking order still seems to be juniors Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson, freshman early enrollee Reggie Carter, followed by everyone else.

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, however, suggested that all of the newcomers could play a role this season, and Wilson agreed that was a likely outcome.

“Everybody in our room’s going to have a role. Everybody,” said Wilson, who tied Jordan Jenkins for the team lead with four tackles in Wednesday’s final preseason scrimmage. “Just because everybody’s been working hard and competing and showing their talent.”

Carter made the most of his opportunity when he enrolled in January, impressing Olivadotti with his work ethic as well as his physical ability. But Carter said that summer enrollees Tim Kimbrough and Johnny O’Neal were also picking up Georgia’s defensive scheme quickly.

“I’m happy that I enrolled early because it helped me understand the defense more and [Ryne] Rankin did the same thing and it helped him learn the defense more. But the guys that just got here, they’re learning, too, and they’re actually doing a way better job than me and Rankin in the spring of picking up the scheme.”

Olivadotti complimented the newcomers, too, adding, “Nobody’s surprised in a negative way, which is a good thing. Everybody’s working, and they’re the people who we thought they were.”

Perhaps Georgia coach Mark Richt provided a glimpse into where things stood on Wednesday when he rattled off stats following the team scrimmage. He informed reporters that Carter tied with Herrera for second on the team with three tackles and later added that O’Neal had made a few impressive hits while playing with the scout team.

Kimbrough, meanwhile, has just returned from a right knee sprain that kept him out of a number of recent practices after making a positive impression early in camp.

Playing on the scout team during the scrimmage doesn’t mean much, however, since Georgia’s limited numbers at inside linebacker mean all or most of the freshmen could find a role on either scrimmage downs or on special teams. Grantham confirmed as much recently.

“Reggie’s a guy that’s really improved and I think he’s going to be helping us in there. I think Kimbrough’s a guy that was showing really good progress until he got hurt,” Grantham said. “I’ve been pleased with it. We’ve obviously got to get him back and continue to develop him. If he continues to improve the way that I’ve seen him, he can be ready to function in a game. Johnny has shown to be big and physical and stout and he has the qualities to be a physical linebacker.

“Linebackers to me are guys that are good special teams players and I think if you get your feet wet that way sometimes it helps you in your defensive play. So if those guys can help us, then we’re going to play them.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- John Lilly is reluctant to divulge the steps he has occasionally taken to determine which football programs were interested in recruits he was pursuing.

The instinct creating that hesitance is not self-preservation, however.

“I’ve got to save all those stories for the book someday,” Lilly joked.

And a book he could write. One of the ace recruiters on Mark Richt’s coaching staff -- Lilly played a key role in Georgia landing signatures from top prospects Tramel Terry, Shaq Wiggins and Tray Matthews in the most recent recruiting class alone -- Georgia’s tight ends coach came to Athens after spending a decade as Bobby Bowden’s recruiting coordinator at Florida State.

John Lilly
Courtesy of UGA Sports CommunicationsPrior to his job as Georgias tight ends coach, John Lilly was Florida State's recruiting coordinator.
There are surely dozens of stories, featuring some of the sport’s biggest names over the past decade, which would keep the average reader enthralled. And yet the long hours spent on the road to accumulate those stories come with a cost.

Like many of his fellow assistants, Lilly is a husband and a father to young children. When coaches are on the recruiting trail throughout the spring evaluation period -- on top of the already-demanding schedules they keep during the season -- they’re away from those they love most.

“You don’t want to miss anything,” Lilly said. “Obviously when you’re out of town, you don’t see your wife, you don’t see your children, they don’t see you. Right now, speaking for me, my children are almost 4 and 2. They don’t necessarily keep track of time and time doesn’t mean as much to them, but they realize after a couple days, ‘Hey, where’s dad?’ It does make it a little bit harder.”

But coaches understand that situation when they accept the job. The wins and losses from the fall are the true measuring sticks that determine whether they hold onto their positions, but it’s their behind-the-scenes work as recruiters that stocks the depth chart with talent that makes wins easier to achieve.

“It is what you make of it,” Georgia inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said, specifically referring to the travel-heavy evaluation period between mid-April and the end of May. “Everybody talks about it being a grind, but it’s just part of the job. You can enjoy it or you can complain about it and I choose to enjoy it.”

NCAA rules help somewhat, since the entire staff is not allowed to be on the road recruiting at once during the spring, and the group is allowed only so many evaluations during that time period.

But the breaks are short-lived if the coaches are doing an adequate job in determining who to chase for their next recruiting class.

“Really the second week after the spring game, we’ve been on the road recruiting and evaluating players, crosschecking -- meaning I may see one guy and someone else may go see him -- and just trying to do a diligent job of recruiting players that can help us be successful at Georgia and win the SEC,” Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said at a UGA Alumni Association meeting in Atlanta in mid-May.

Olivadotti and Lilly said it is not unheard of for them to hit 10 to 12 schools in a day in May, provided that they are within close proximity. Such days are not ideal in most cases, however. Recruiting is about building relationships with players, coaches and families -- and that’s a time-consuming process if done correctly.

That’s why coaches typically make only a handful of daily stops in the final weeks leading up to national signing day while trying to solidify their recruiting classes -- a big change from when their off-campus contact with players is restricted in the spring.

“Most of us really enjoy the relationships you form with people because at the end of the day, it’s just fun to get to know a lot of people in a lot of places and all that,” Lilly said. “But if you’re really going to spend time with people and get to know them and them get to know you, you’re probably maxing yourself out if you go to any more than [10 or 11 in May]. If you’re in the January mode, you may only hit a couple in a day at that point.”

By the time signing day arrives, the coaching staff has already started laying the groundwork for the next class -- and often the one that’s two years away. It’s a process that never truly ends for coaches at the country’s elite programs.

“You’d better know everybody that’s walking the halls for two or three years down the road if you can,” Lilly said.

ESPN 300 OLB sees fit in Athens 

June, 28, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Christian Miller (Columbia, S.C./Spring Valley), the nation’s No. 2 outside linebacker, was in Athens on Wednesday, talking with Mark Richt and Kirk Olivadotti. Miller liked what he heard. In fact, he left campus thinking he could easily see himself suiting up for the Bulldogs.

Post-spring position review: ILB 

April, 23, 2013
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Editor’s note: Our DawgNation post-spring positional analysis continues this week after focusing on the offense last week. Today we examine the inside linebackers:

Returning players/stats: Amarlo Herrera, Jr. (Nine starts in 2012. 70 tackles, three tackles for a loss, one interception); Ramik Wilson, Jr. (6 tackles, one TFL); Kosta Vavlas, Jr. (9 tackles)

Newcomers: Johnny O’Neal, Fr. (ESPN’s No. 153 overall prospect in the 2013 class, No. 5 ILB. Expected to enroll this summer); Tim Kimbrough, Fr. (No. 289 overall, No. 11 ILB. Expected to enroll this summer); Ryne Rankin, Fr. (No. 296, No. 13 ILB. Enrolled in January); Reggie Carter, Fr. (No. 32 ILB. Enrolled in January).


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Georgia ILB position taking shape

March, 28, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- As valuable as this spring will be for early enrollees Reggie Carter and Ryne Rankin, it will be just as important for Ramik Wilson.

Ramik Wilson
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comAfter appearing in 10 games in 2012, Ramik Wilson, left, has worked his way into a starting job at inside linebacker this spring.
The rising junior has finally settled at inside linebacker -- after shuffling between inside and outside over the past two seasons -- and believes he is making rapid progress at the Mike position, where he is responsible for making defensive calls.

“It helps me out a lot,” Wilson said after leading the defense with seven tackles in Tuesday’s scrimmage at Sanford Stadium. “I can just learn one position and just keep going from there. I haven’t got to keep doing double duty and just focus on my time at mike. It’s coming real good.”

So good, in fact, that he has established himself as an early favorite to start alongside fellow junior Amarlo Herrera this fall.

“I’d be thrilled if Ramik continued to improve like he has,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “He’s playing inside now. He was playing outside before. I think he’s comfortable in there. I think that’s probably more of a natural position for him. Hopefully he’ll keep coming on.”

Wilson, Carter and Rankin all have a valuable opportunity this spring to earn playing time before two more inside linebacker signees, Johnny O’Neal and Tim Kimbrough, arrive this summer. With 2012 regulars Alec Ogletree, Christian Robinson and Michael Gilliard now pursuing their dreams of playing professional football, only Herrera remains from last season’s rotation -- so position coach Kirk Olivadotti knew this spring would involve major turnover.

(Read full post)

ATHENS, Ga. -- After his 2012 offense set several school records, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo received a three-year contract that includes a $240,000 raise, pushing his guaranteed salary to $575,000 annually.

“I think he deserved a three-year deal because that’s really what’s happening out there in this league,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said before Thursday’s practice. “And his salary’s very competitive with his peers and I think he’s earned that.”

Mike Bobo
Jeff Vest/Icon SMIGeorgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo received a three-year contract that included a $240,000 raise.
Bobo and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham now both are operating on three-year deals. Bobo had been coaching on renewable one-year contracts since joining Richt’s first UGA staff in 2001.

According to salary figures that UGA released to ESPN.com on Thursday, Bobo and each of Richt’s nine assistant coaches received salary increases following a 2012 campaign when the Bulldogs fell just short of an appearance in the BCS championship game.

“I think we’ve got a great staff and I want to keep them,” Richt said. “But it’s a very competitive league in a lot of areas. There’s the competition on the field, there’s the competition in recruiting and then sometimes there’s a competition to hang on to your assistant coaches.”

Offensive line coach Will Friend received a $90,000 raise, pushing his annual salary to $300,000 per year. Friend also added the title of running game coordinator to his resume.

Meanwhile, wide receivers coach Tony Ball received a $50,000 increase to $260,000.

Each of Georgia’s remaining assistants received $25,000 raises: Grantham (to $850,000), inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti (to $285,000), defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos (to $235,000), tight ends coach John Lilly (to $235,000) and running backs coach Bryan McClendon (to $235,000).

New defensive line coach Chris Wilson is scheduled to make $250,000 in 2013.

“It was good for them, but it was good for me as well because I really think these guys are tremendous,” Richt said of the staff raises. “I think every one of them are and over time, I want to continue to try to bless them the best we can financially and stay as competitive as we can in that area.”

Coaches' take: Ryne Rankin 

January, 27, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- There were obvious benefits to Ryne Rankin becoming the rare Georgia early enrollee to participate in the Bulldogs’ pre-Christmas bowl practices, but there were drawbacks, as well.


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Weekend rewind: Georgia 

December, 10, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- The Georgia coaching staff was on the road Friday, as usual, checking in on commits and targets alike. In what had to the most fortuitous turn of events of the day, tight ends coach John Lilly and inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti just happened to be stopping by Auburn (Ala.) High School right after the nation’s No. 1 inside linebacker, Reuben Foster, decommitted from Auburn University. Both coaches met with Foster, who reopened his recruitment, citing reports that his mentor Trooper Taylor had been let go at Auburn.

Later that night, another coach would also prove lucky as defensive line coach Rodney Garner was on hand to congratulate Montravius Adams (Vienna, Ga./Dooly County) after the top-ranked defensive tackle won the chance to play for the Georgia Class A championship.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and running backs coach Bryan McClendon were on hand to see the Bulldogs’ top tailback target, Alvin Kamara (Norcross, Ga./Norcross), win his semifinal game as well. Alabama’s Kirby Smart was also there, and the battle for Kamara is still neck and neck.

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What if ... assistants leave UGA program? 

December, 7, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt has consistently credited his coaching staff for its ability to work together and produce outstanding results.

It’s inevitable, however, that members of the staff will leave for other opportunities. After all, both coordinators -- Mike Bobo and Todd Grantham -- are starting to see their names mentioned as potential head coaches. And plenty of other UGA assistants would be in demand if they opted to seek employment elsewhere.

So the big question is how Richt and the Bulldogs will fare once the group dynamic changes within his staff.

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Demarre Kitt's popularity on the rise 

December, 5, 2012
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TYRONE, Ga. -- ESPN Watch List wide receiver Demarre Kitt has been popular over the last 10 days. A number of college coaches have stopped by Sandy Creek (Ga.) High School to check in on the 6-foot-1, 185-pound junior who sports offers from 11 major programs such as USC, Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson.

Kitt was verbally committed to Georgia for a few months before reopening his recruitment. The Bulldogs had three coaches, Rodney Garner, Kirk Olivadotti and Scott Lakos, at his game Friday night. While their attention was focused mainly on Georgia commit cornerback Shaq Wiggins, Kitt was happy to see them.

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Shaq Wiggins gets bookend visits 

December, 4, 2012
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TYRONE, Ga. -- Less than 24 hours before the SEC championship game, three members of the Georgia Bulldogs’ coaching staff were in Tyrone, Ga. Assistant head coach Rodney Garner, secondary coach Scott Lakatos and inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti were at Sandy Creek High School watching the Patriots host a playoff game against Burke County (Ga.) High School. On the field was Georgia’s top-rated verbal commitment, cornerback Shaq Wiggins.

The fact that the coaches would be playing Alabama for a chance at the national title was not lost on the ESPN 150 four-star recruit.

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Weekend Rewind: Georgia 

December, 3, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- After coming within 5 yards of playing for a national championship on Saturday, the Georgia Bulldogs really needed some good news on Sunday. To make matters worse, one of their top targets, wide receiver Ja’Quay Williams chose Texas A&M over Georgia on Sunday night. Missing out on a BCS bowl game did not help the mood in Athens, either.

Just when it seemed the Bulldogs could not catch a break on the field or on the recruiting trail, coach Mark Richt received a phone call. One of Georgia’s top targets, ESPN 150 athlete Tramel Terry (Goose Creek, S.C./Goose Creek) was on the line. Terry had gone quiet after a visit to Clemson, deciding to mull over how he would fit with the in-state Tigers. He had already decommitted from Georgia once and the pressure to remain in South Carolina weighed on him. Terry was torn between the two programs. But during the call to Richt, Terry revealed he had made a decision.

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ESPN Watch List LB has best visit at UGA 

September, 30, 2012
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ESPN Watch List linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty Co.) is not new to recruiting. The junior has been a top target since his sophomore year. He has seen a long list of coaches come by his high school to check on him and let him know that he is a wanted man. He has returned the favor, visiting several of the 15 schools that have offered.

But one recent visit stands out -- the one he took to Georgia just one day ago.

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