Georgia Bulldogs: Toby Johnson

Video: X factor for Georgia

June, 30, 2014
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Edward Aschoff discusses why defensive lineman Toby Johnson is the X factor for Georgia's football team this fall.

Georgia spring wrap

April, 30, 2014
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Georgia Bulldogs:

1. Mason is ready: After sitting behind Aaron Murray for four years, Hutson Mason is now the guy at quarterback. It won’t be easy following a legend, but Mason is ready to do his thing in Athens. He had a good spring, is extremely confident, filled with moxie, knows the offense, can make plays on the fly, and has all the trust in his teammates.

2. Gurley tough: Georgia running back Todd Gurley has never been truly healthy with the Dawgs, but is playing through pain better than ever. His coaches pushed him to increase his toughness and improve his attitude this spring, and he did. He was bulldozing teammates during practice and the spring game and is motivated to play his best ball this fall.

3. Floyd and Johnson could be special: Linebacker Leonard Floyd could be Georgia’s best defensive player, while defensive lineman Toby Johnson could be primed for a breakout season. Floyd can do just about everything under the sun, while Johnson was a constant terror during Georgia’s spring game. Both needed to be doubleteamed this spring, and you should hear a lot more about these two this fall.

Three questions for the fall:

1. What's next for the secondary?: There’s no question that new DC Jeremy Pruitt’s biggest job will be fixing Georgia’s secondary. It showed similar inconsistencies this spring and the offense could have made things look really ugly through the air during the spring game if not for a few overthrows. Expect some of Georgia’s newcomers to get every shot at taking starting spots this fall.

2. Who will play at left guard?: Four of the five starting offensive line spots look to be set. Left guard, however, is unknown. There are a lot of combinations for the Dawgs and you could even see tackle Kolton Houston play there. Rising sophomore Brandon Kublanow playing at LG would keep Houston and John Theus at the tackle spots, but Mark Beard and Watts Dantzler could shake things up.

3. Will we see RB Keith Marshall this fall?: Marshall is running after his devastating ACL injury from last fall, but the coaches aren’t sure if he’ll be 100 percent this fall. Marshall hasn’t been cutting much, but he’s progressing. Still, with the severity of last year’s injury, Marshall could be limited this fall, or out completely.

One way-too-early prediction:

Midway through the season, Georgia will spend four straight games away from Athens. The trip starts at Missouri and squeezes in that annual game in Jacksonville, Fla., against rival Florida. Add a trip to Arkansas and Kentucky, and the Dawgs will be world travelers. Expect Georgia to split that road trip.

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."
We're closing in on the start of spring practice at Georgia, so this week we will take a look at five position battles worth watching this spring.

Yesterday we examined the competition at safety. Today let's move to the defensive line, which lost a starter in Garrison Smith, but should otherwise have plentiful depth and experience:

[+] EnlargeRay Drew
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsRay Drew will be among those tasked with getting a better pass rush for Georgia in 2014.
Returning starters: A number of defensive linemen earned starts for the first times in their careers last fall. Defensive end Sterling Bailey (34 tackles, one sack, one tackle for a loss) started the first eight games and came off the bench for the remaining five. Position mate Ray Drew (43 tackles, six sacks, eight TFLs) started seven times, but never started more than two games in a row at any point. And noseguard Chris Mayes (31 tackles, one sack, one TFL) started to come into his own during his streak of seven straight starts to conclude the season.

Departures: Smith (63 tackles, six sacks, 10 TFLs) started all 13 games last season and was one of the emotional leaders on the defense, earning defensive team captain honors after the season.

Returning reserves: John Taylor (nine tackles, one sack, 1.5 TFLs) and Toby Johnson (seven tackles, 1.5 TFLs) are probably the first names to mention here. Both players appeared in 10 games off the bench in 2013 and should compete for extended playing time this fall. Taylor was a redshirt freshman and still looked a bit green last season, while Johnson was only nine months removed from a season-ending ACL tear when the Bulldogs opened preseason camp a year ago. Josh Dawson (eight tackles, one TFL) appeared in 12 games and started once at end and Mike Thornton (five tackles, one sack, one TFL) appeared in 11 games. Smith mentioned Thornton as a player who might fill a larger role in the Bulldogs' retooled 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

Newcomers: Redshirt freshman John Atkins is among the more intriguing players who will enter the mix this spring. He's big and quick enough to play any position along the line, and it wouldn't be a big surprise to see him figure into the line rotation early next season. Noseguard DeAndre Johnson is also coming off a redshirt, but he faces steep competition in the middle this spring. The Bulldogs also signed defensive tackle Lamont Gaillard -- ESPN's No. 55 overall prospect and No. 4 DT -- and ESPN 300 defensive end Keyon Brown, but neither player is on campus yet.

What to watch: The line came into 2013 with limited experience, but ranked among the pleasant surprises for a defense that disappointed overall. The Bulldogs defended the run fairly well -- Georgia's average of 3.7 yards allowed per carry ranked second in the SEC -- thanks in large part to typically stout play by the line. With six sacks apiece, Drew and Smith both ranked among the SEC's top pass-rushers, but the group generally struggled to generate a consistent pass rush or convert sack opportunities. Identifying strong rush men will likely rank among new line coach Tracy Rocker's goals for the spring, as will simply teaching his new players how he wants things done. This will be the third line coach in as many seasons for the Bulldogs, so the group has certainly become accustomed to change. It will be a big spring for all of the linemen since Rocker brings a fresh set of eyes to the table, without having formed an opinion based on their performances in previous seasons. It might provide a chance for someone like Johnson -- we recently discussed his situation here -- Taylor or Atkins to grab a bigger role than he previously enjoyed.

Players to watch: Tramel Terry

February, 28, 2014
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With spring practice still a few weeks away, this week we'll discuss five players to watch once the Bulldogs open workouts on March 18.

We discussed wide receiver Jonathon Rumph, offensive guard Brandon Kublanow, defensive lineman Toby Johnson and offensive tackles John Theus and Kolton Houston in the first four installments. Today, we conclude the series with a converted wide receiver who could play a key role in the secondary this fall.

[+] EnlargeTramel Terry
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTramel Terry took a redshirt last season and figures into Georgia's plans at safety.
Tramel Terry (Safety, redshirt freshman)

2013 review: Although he enrolled at Georgia last January and hoped to contribute as a true freshman, a torn ACL that Terry suffered in a postseason all-star game did not heal in time for him to play. He complained during preseason practice about a lack of mobility because of the brace on his knee and worked out with the scout team throughout the fall. Then came a twist during bowl practice, when Terry shifted from wide receiver to safety -- a move that coach Mark Richt said might stick beyond the bowl-season experiment.

Why spring is important: Let's operate under the assumption that Terry remains in the secondary, particularly after Richt's recent dismissal of starting safety Josh Harvey-Clemons. Terry played the position a bit in high school, but he played lots of positions -- hence his ranking as ESPN's No. 9 athlete in the 2013 signing class. He also contributed at running back and wide receiver in high school. He has never focused solely on safety so this will be a prime learning opportunity. The dynamic athleticism that made him one of ESPN's Top 100 recruits last year could help him become a useful defensive back, but he's a long way from stardom right now. He needs to have a productive spring if that is to be an attainable goal this fall.

Best case/worst case: Georgia's safeties already were on shaky ground even before Harvey-Clemons' dismissal. The back end of the Bulldogs' defense was inconsistent for much of last season and didn't look much better at the end of the year than it did at the beginning. Sure, Corey Moore, Quincy Mauger and Tray Matthews -- all of whom were part-time starters last year -- are back. But they weren't good enough to keep Terry, and other players, from jumping into the mix if he impresses new defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Jeremy Pruitt this spring. Maybe Terry will do that and win playing time or even a starting spot. A more reasonable expectation might be for Terry to learn more about the job during the spring and summer, start contributing on special teams early in the fall and eventually work his way into the rotation on scrimmage downs. It's too early to make a prediction on which of those outcomes is more likely, but we should have a better idea what might happen after spring practice.

Players to watch: Theus/Houston

February, 27, 2014
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With spring practice still a few weeks away, this week we'll discuss five players to watch once the Bulldogs open workouts on March 18.

[+] EnlargeJohn Theus
AP Photo/Paul AbellJohn Theus took a step back after a freshman All-American season in 2012.
We discussed wide receiver Jonathon Rumph, offensive guard Brandon Kublanow and defensive lineman Toby Johnson to start the week. We move on Thursday to two candidates to fill the starting spots at offensive tackle this fall.

John Theus and Kolton Houston (offensive tackles, Jr. and Sr.)

2013 review: After starting all 14 games at right tackle and making multiple freshman All-American teams in 2012, Theus found himself in a reserve role to open his sophomore season. He started just once in the first six games while Houston held down the right tackle spot. As the season progressed, however, they flipped roles and Theus started the last seven games and Houston played as a reserve.

Why spring is important: Longtime starting left tackle Kenarious Gates was a senior last fall, so not only was the job that Theus and Houston juggled last year up for grabs, but so is Gates' old spot on the left side of the line. Considering how Xzavier Ward and Zach DeBell have yet to make much of an impact at Georgia, Theus and Houston seem like the favorites to win the starting jobs. Senior Mark Beard, who has played both guard and tackle, might also be a possibility. Nonetheless, offensive line coach Will Friend will likely look at several groups along a line that must replace three starters. Theus and Houston had their ups and downs a season ago, so they could use a strong spring to alleviate some of the uncertainty that the line carries into the upcoming practices.

Best case/worst case: Georgia fans were excited about what the future held for Theus entering his sophomore season, but he didn't make enormous strides in his second season on campus. Likewise, Houston made his long-awaited debut following a lengthy NCAA eligibility dispute and frequently looked like a player who hadn't been able to earn any game experience in his first three seasons at Georgia. Since both players seem likely to contribute as part of a rotation at minimum -- and likely as starters -- a worst-case scenario would have them playing at the same level as they did in 2013. Theus and Houston are capable of much more, however, and a consistent spring could help them nail down starting tackle jobs and solidify Friend's plans entering preseason practices.

Players to watch: Toby Johnson

February, 26, 2014
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With spring practice still a few weeks away, this week we'll discuss five players to watch once the Bulldogs open workouts on March 18.

We talked about wide receiver Jonathon Rumph and offensive guard Brandon Kublanow in the first two installments. We move on Wednesday to a defensive lineman who could play a bigger role in 2014 now that he has had a year to heal from an injury and get his bearings at Georgia.

Toby Johnson (defensive lineman, Sr.)

2013 review: A late addition to Georgia's 2013 signing class, Johnson was the No. 4 overall prospect on the ESPN Junior College 100 and hoped to play a much larger role along the defensive line. He was coming off an ACL injury from the previous November, but he did not want to redshirt. So he played in 10 games as a reserve, finishing the season with seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss.

Why spring is important: Playing time would have been available for Johnson even without Garrison Smith -- a 2013 senior who started all 13 games last season -- leaving the lineup. Johnson was listed as Smith's backup at defensive end in the bowl loss, and like Smith, he is capable of playing either inside or outside depending on the situation. The goal this spring will be for Johnson to prove to new defensive line coach Tracy Rocker that he deserves to be one of the leading figures along the line and not the role player he was a season ago.

Best case/worst case: Johnson was only about 10 months removed from ACL surgery when last season started, and while he said he felt healthy, he never made a dent in the starting lineup. Smith, Chris Mayes and the Ray Drew-Sterling Bailey combo handled the top spots along the line for much of the season, but a big spring could push Johnson toward the front of the line this fall. There are other contenders for playing time -- including John Taylor, John Atkins, Josh Dawson and Michael Thornton -- so this will be a pivotal spring for all of them. If Johnson fails to make a move this spring, he runs the risk of remaining as a utility man as a senior, which would be a big disappointment for a player who carried such acclaim when he signed with the Bulldogs.

UGA D-line seeks more consistency

September, 6, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Like most of Georgia's defense, the Bulldogs' line had its moments of competence -- and even solid play -- in last Saturday's season-opening loss at Clemson.

The problem across the board was that there weren't enough of those moments, and the line knows it must turn in a more consistent performance with South Carolina's physical rushing attack on tap Saturday.

“We didn't tackle that good in the last game, so we're just trying to come out and just get ready for South Carolina,” Georgia defensive end Toby Johnson said. “Them boys, they like to run the ball a lot, so obviously we've got to tackle.”

Led by tailback Mike Davis, who might have wound up at Georgia had Todd Gurley not committed to the Bulldogs first, South Carolina pounded North Carolina for 228 rushing yards and 6 yards per carry in last week's opener. Included in Davis' 115 rushing yards was a 75-yard touchdown run that cemented the Gamecocks' 27-10 victory.

“He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s tough,” Georgia nose guard Mike Thornton said of Davis, his former teammate at Atlanta's Stephenson High School. “He’s a tough runner.”

To contend with Davis' power running and South Carolina's NFL-sized offensive line, Georgia's defensive front also must be tougher following its uneven results in Week 1.

[+] EnlargeGarrison Smith
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesGarrison Smith, a 6-foot-3, 299-pound senior, is now listed as Georgia's starting nose guard.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Clemson ran 36 times on designed runs inside the tackles for 158 yards (4.4 YPC) and a touchdown last Saturday. That number would look more impressive were it not for a 36-yard run by Rod McDowell in the fourth quarter to set up Clemson's final touchdown.

“We swarmed to the ball as a defense, especially our linebackers, but for the most part we missed a lot of big tackles,” Johnson said. “That goes with me, I missed a big sack. So we've just got to wrap up and keep our head up and keep your feet.”

Considering that it was the first college game for a couple of Georgia linemen and the first heavy dose of playing time for a couple more, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said he actually came away feeling encouraged after watching film of the group's debut effort.

“I thought there was some good things. At times they were stout and did the things we had to do. We’re so young, we’ve got to continue to work on our techniques and our fundamentals to be consistent in our play,” Grantham said. “I walked away thinking that if we can build on this, we’ll be fine. And really I walked away as that for the whole unit from that standpoint after watching the tape.”

The Bulldogs practiced in full pads Tuesday and Wednesday in an effort to work more on shedding blocks and tackling. They also shuffled their depth chart, placing Garrison Smith as the starting nose guard and Sterling Bailey and Josh Dawson as the starting ends, although Grantham insisted that making a fuss over players' positional labels is “so overrated” in his scheme that shifts between a traditional 3-4 base defense and a nickel look that deploys four players along the line.

Nonetheless, Smith played in the interior of the line for much of the Clemson game and felt he performed well, even if his 299-pound frame is considerably smaller than Georgia's 2012 nose men, John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers.

“I ain’t the size of a double-wide trailer like John Jenkins and Kwame. I’m like a dually [truck] and they’re like an 18-wheeler ... a big Mack truck, Freightliners,” Smith said. “It’s a big difference between our sizes, but I just do it the best I can.”

It should help that new line coach Chris Wilson seems prepared to follow through on his plan to use more players up front. Thornton said the Clemson game was “was the most we’ve ever rotated since I’ve been here.”

And it made a difference in the players' energy levels, as Clemson's offensive play count built and the game reached its latter stages.

“It’s a noticeable difference when you know you’ve got somebody that can come in and play a couple snaps for you, and you don’t have to worry about getting so winded and getting so tired,” Smith said. “You can get a couple plays off and be able to go back in and be able to keep playing hard.”

Whoever is in the game along Georgia's line will have one main challenge come Saturday. South Carolina arrives each week planning to dominate the line of scrimmage, and the Bulldogs must play a tougher, more consistent brand of defense if they are to end a three-game losing streak against the Gamecocks.

“Something that’s going to pop up on the film whenever you look at it and just see how big and physical they are,” Dawson said. “You’ve just got to match them.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Rarely does the public see video evidence that confirms a team’s offseason happy talk. Luckily for Georgia freshman running back J.J. Green, he picked the right day during preseason training camp to make a ridiculous run.

ESPN cameras were on the scene last week for an on-campus tour stop when the diminutive Green escaped from multiple tackle attempts and wound up leaping onto and over a pile of four linemen to score during a 3-on-3 running drill. Multiple Bulldogs players and coaches had complimented the freshman during spring practice for his slippery running style, and the video of Green’s run proved they weren’t just blowing smoke.

J.J. Green
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comThree-star prospect J.J. Green, who was going to play receiver at Georgia, has been practicing at running back for the Bulldogs.
“I think it more so explains just the type of football player he is, period,” Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon said. “He’s a tough guy that doesn’t like to be denied at much, a guy that plays with a chip on his shoulder because he’s been told that he’s too [small] his whole football career. So he plays with a chip on his shoulder and goes out there and tries to prove people wrong.”

Green said he didn’t even know the cameras were there, much less that video of his run had gone viral on the Internet until well after the fact. Bulldogs coach Mark Richt told him during practice that the play had reached ESPN’s airwaves, and the dozens of mentions Green soon received on Twitter confirmed that his run was making the rounds.

“I was surprised a little bit,” Green said. “… Everybody just started sending me the video and I checked the Twitter account like three hours later and it was blowing up with it. But it was pretty awesome.”

The other side of the token, however, is that three Georgia defensive players had to answer for their inability to corral the 5-foot-9 scatback -- particularly nose guard John Atkins, who had Green in his grasp.

Defensive end Toby Johnson, who was also in on the play, laughed and said what happened was “embarrassing,” but accepted some portion of the blame for Green’s escape.

“It was as much on me, too. I can’t put my guys out like that,” Johnson said. “We was all in it together. We all lost.”

On the play, Green ran into a hole initially clogged by defensive end Ray Drew and then spun directly into Atkins’ arms. Green kept his legs driving and stayed on his feet as Atkins fell to the turf while trying to strip the ball from his hands, and then the running back jumped straight up and landed on top of four down linemen.

“I didn’t really see it [at the time], but when I saw it on the Internet, I was like, ‘Whoa! I didn’t know it was that spectacular,’ ” Atkins chuckled.

Next, Green planted his right knee on the back of falling offensive tackle John Theus, made an acrobatic lunge forward and landed on both feet before running away from the pile to cheers from the Bulldogs’ offensive players and coaches.

“[Atkins] fell off and everything else was just instincts,” Green said. “I didn’t really think about it, it just happened. I knew backside was open, but I wanted to make a play, so I hopped over the pile.”

Having played running back throughout his football career, Green is happy to be playing the position after initially expecting to play receiver in college. He switched to running back just before spring practice because of depth issues, and performed well enough that he seems to have found a home in the backfield.

“I’m a tailback at Georgia now,” Green said. “I can still play wide receiver sometimes, but I like playing running back.”

He has competition for playing time behind established stars Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, however. Fellow freshman Brendan Douglas has impressed the coaching staff with his performance in August, and A.J. Turman could still play a role once he returns from a camp injury.

But Green has clearly carved a niche for himself as a return man and change-of-pace option out of the backfield, and his slippery running style -- as evidenced by his 3-on-3 touchdown -- will make him another weapon that Georgia’s explosive offense can utilize.

“You’ve got to watch him,” observed defensive back Kennar Johnson, “or he’ll shake you real quick.”
Todd Gurley, Trey DePriestKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTodd Gurley had 105 total yards and two touchdowns in Georgia's scrimmage Wednesday, part of a much more focused effort by the Bulldogs' offense.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Since his team will open the season at night against Clemson, Georgia coach Mark Richt wanted his team’s final two scrimmages to be under the lights.

Richt got exactly the conditions and energy level from the team that he was hoping for in Wednesday’s second scrimmage of the preseason -- a marked difference from the Bulldogs’ listless effort a week ago.

“I thought it would be a good idea to do it this week because I just wanted it to be a nice, cool night, I wanted everybody to be well-rested and I just wanted to see a lot of energy out there,” Richt said. “It was like night and day from the first scrimmage as far as just the energy level out there.”

Georgia’s coaches got what they expected from their starting units, as well, with those groups mostly having their way against the backups in traditional series and situational scenarios.

“When you scrimmage like this and you go ones versus twos, you hope that your No. 1 offense is going to have a pretty good go against your No. 2 defense and vice versa. And that’s about how it’s gone,” Richt said. “If your second offense was just thrashing your No. 1 defense, then you’ve got a really, really serious problem. But that’s not the case. I thought both No. 1 units played pretty good.”

Several of Richt’s assistant coaches said recently that they would begin narrowing the field of candidates for playing time after Wednesday’s scrimmage so that they would have defined roles when they hold their third and final scrimmage next Wednesday. Richt said the coaches would grade film of the scrimmage within the next 24 hours, but their personnel decisions will likely take at least a few days.

“It’ll be maybe a day or two before we start trying to figure out ... and it won’t be exact until probably next Wednesday,” Richt said. “I would think by next Wednesday when we have that practice game, we’ll have a really good idea of our lineup.”

As for statistics, there were no particularly eye-catching numbers on Wednesday -- unlike last week’s scrimmage, when starting quarterback Aaron Murray threw three interceptions. Murray bounced back to go 14-for-18 for 173 yards, one touchdown and one interception on Wednesday, with backup Hutson Mason finishing 9-for-19 for 107 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley was the offensive star of the evening, rushing five times for 33 yards and two touchdowns and adding three receptions for another 72 yards. Tailback Keith Marshall had six carries for 39 yards and freshman Brendan Douglas added seven rushes for 50 yards and two catches for another 31 yards.

“[Douglas] was very impressive today,” Richt said. “He ran the ball well, he ran with power, he ran with some vision, he continued to pass [block] pretty good. He’s not perfect in that area.”

Blake Tibbs and Michael Bennett caught the two touchdown passes and Malcolm Mitchell led the receivers with four catches for 58 yards.

Josh Harvey-Clemons, suspended for the opener at Clemson, led the defense with seven tackles and three pass breakups. Amarlo Herrera had five tackles and two pass breakups, while T.J. Stripling, Connor Norman, Garrison Smith and Leonard Floyd all had four stops. Floyd also made a tackle for a loss and would have recorded a sack, Richt said, if not for being blatantly held by an offensive tackle.

Defensive end Toby Johnson recorded the one official sack.

Freshman cornerbacks Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley both made interceptions, with Langley returning his interception 48 yards for a touchdown. Richt said Langley also broke up a pass at the goal line to prevent a touchdown.

The two freshmen are not just competing to be the backups at cornerback, Richt said, they’re competing with Sheldon Dawson to win a starting job alongside junior Damian Swann.

“I’d say they’re all still competing, other than Swanny’s going to be in there,” Richt said. “But who the other starter will be, it’s just a matter of watching what happened in this scrimmage and what happens between now and next Wednesday, probably.”

Kennar Johnson and Lucas Redd also intercepted passes.

The Bulldogs are still contending with a number of injuries, as 15 players appeared on Wednesday’s injury report -- including safeties Tray Matthews (shoulder/hamstring), Corey Moore (knee sprain), Shaquille Fluker (illness), Marc Deas (elbow sprain) and Paris Bostick (foot surgery).

Nose guard Chris Mayes (concussion), linebackers Tim Kimbrough (knee sprain) and Chase Vasser (ankle sprain), receivers Reggie Davis (knee sprain), Rhett McGowan (ankle sprain) and Rantavious Wooten (hamstring strain), tailback A.J. Turman (knee/ankle) and tight end Jay Rome (ankle sprain) were also sidelined.

The good injury news, Richt said, was that he did not believe the team suffered any new injuries during the scrimmage.

“It was a good day. No one was banged up today,” Richt said. “Sometimes the next day you hear something, but today Ron [Courson, Georgia’s director of sports medicine] came to me and said everything looked good, so that’s a blessing.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Having played at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College -- a hotbed of junior college football talent -- Kennar Johnson has already faced comparable levels of speed and athleticism to he will see in the SEC.

“The junior college league that I played in [the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges], they called it the SEC of junior college,” said Johnson, one of five juco players who joined Georgia’s roster this season. “You’ve got a lot of those guys who go to the SEC and are SEC players in football, they just can’t make it out of high school [academically]. So I’m seeing it. … It’s just maybe one level higher than what I saw.”

Toby Johnson
Hutchinson CC Sports InformationFour-star defensive tackle Toby Johnson is the highest ranked of Georgia's five junior college signees.
Rarely is it the physical side of the sport that impedes a junior college transfer’s progress once he arrives at Georgia, however. The biggest obstacles are picking up the complexities of the Bulldogs’ offensive or defensive schemes and adapting to the more regimented schedule that accompanies life inside a big-time football program.

As with most of their predecessors, that’s how Georgia’s newest juco transfers see it.

“I get frustrated all the time,” admitted Toby Johnson, who as the No. 4 prospect in ESPN’s Junior College 100 was the highest-rated of Georgia’s five juco signees. “I’m just going to get better every day in meetings and stuff. I’m the type of player, I’ve got to walk through it.”

The most productive junior college transfer of Mark Richt’s Georgia tenure, nose guard John Jenkins, encountered the same issues during the previous two seasons in Athens. He struggled after arriving in 2011 before eventually picking up the scheme and enjoying a strong second half of the season. He was good enough last fall to become a third-round pick in this year’s NFL draft.

But those first few weeks and months on campus can be a shock to the system following a less demanding experience in junior college.

“In juco, we didn’t do much,” said Shaquille Fluker, a big-hitting safety from East Mississippi Community College. “Because here it’s like we’re starting in the morning and work out through all the day. … Here, they’ve got our whole day [scheduled].”

Receiver Jonathon Rumph was the first member of the group to face that culture shock, having arrived on campus in January and participated in the Bulldogs’ spring practice.

Although the 6-foot-5 Rumph was one of the stars of Georgia’s spring game, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was critical of Rumph’s overall spring performance. After a few months on campus and a bit more time to refine his technique, however, Rumph has Bobo singing a different tune today.

“His improvement from the spring is a big jump,” Bobo said Sunday. “He’s smoothing out. He’s still overall a little bit learning the offense, learning how to run routes, and then at the same time using his size. But I know going into the spring game, he really didn’t make any plays for us in practice and made a couple of those in the spring game. But now he’s made some plays in fall practice, which is good to see.”

It’s on the defensive side where Georgia will be especially reliant on the former juco players, though. Along with the two Johnsons and Fluker, nose guard Chris Mayes could also play an important role on a defense that has a number of holes to fill after losing 12 key players from last season.

Their physical maturity was one factor in Georgia’s pursuing them as recruits, as an older player might be better prepared than a true freshman to contribute immediately. In addition, signing five juco players -- the most for a single signing class in Richt’s UGA tenure -- was part of a numbers game.

Georgia’s 33-man class was also the largest overall in Richt’s career, so signing a group composed solely of high schoolers would have created a glut of freshmen on the roster. The coaching staff wanted a bit more balance than that.

“If you take all freshmen, then four years from now you’re going to be in a similar situation,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “So by taking a couple of junior college guys, I think it balances out your class with some older guys and new guys. Sometimes older guys have a little more experience, maturity and things like that. They’ve all had to catch up with the system.”

Georgia dealt with a severe shortage of scholarship players over the last couple of seasons thanks to various forms of roster attrition, so the huge signing class helped the Bulldogs finally get back around the NCAA’s 85-man roster limit.

The juco transfers and many of their signing class mates are sure to play right away -- and even if they don’t start, simply having them on the roster is a pleasant change for Richt’s staff because of the competition they bring to their respective positions.

“We always look and say, ‘All right, of all the players that are available to recruit, what combination of players gives us the best chance to win?’ ” Grantham said. “There’s nothing that says when you sign that guy, it always has to be that he’s going to be the lockdown starter. It could be to provide depth. It’s based upon how they play and how they produce, but at least you have numbers at the position. That’s the big thing.”

SLOW STARTS FOR JUCO ADDITIONS
Georgia signed five junior college players this year -- the most of any season since Mark Richt became the Bulldogs’ coach in 2001. Here’s a look at how Georgia’s previous juco transfers under Richt performed in their first seasons on campus.

2012
OL Mark Beard: Started two games at left tackle and ranked among top reserves on offensive line.

2011
NG John Jenkins: Started seven games and finished with 28 tackles, six tackles for a loss and three sacks.

2010
S Jakar Hamilton: Started five games and made 27 tackles. Intercepted a pass in opener against Louisiana-Lafayette and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown.

2009
K Brandon Bogotay: Kicked off twice while serving as Blair Walsh’s backup.

2008
LB Akeem Hebron: Returned to team after one-year hiatus at Georgia Military College. Recorded one tackle in six games as a reserve linebacker.

2007
OG Scott Haverkamp: Started the first three games and appeared in seven games before leaving the team.
DT Corvey Irvin: Recorded 13 tackles and two tackles for a loss in 13 games as a reserve defensive lineman.
OT Vince Vance: Appeared in 11 games as a reserve offensive lineman.
DE Jarius Wynn: Recorded nine tackles, one tackle for a loss and one sack in 13 games as a reserve defensive end.

2001
DE Nic Clemons: Recorded three tackles in five games as a reserve defensive lineman.
OT Kareem Marshall: Started five games at offensive tackle.
CB Brandon Williams: Made 13 tackles and broke up three tackles in 10 games as a reserve defensive back.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Chris Wilson needed only about 30 minutes in Georgia’s first preseason practice before he started fiddling with his depth chart.

The new defensive line coach’s face broke into a wide grin when explaining why he loudly informed Sterling Bailey -- who finished spring practice as a starting defensive end -- that Ray Drew was now the starter in Georgia’s base defense and that Bailey would be the first-team end when the Bulldogs play a nickel defense.

“We make on-the-field adjustments,” Wilson cracked.

[+] EnlargeRay Drew
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsNew defensive line coach Chris Wilson isn't afraid to mix and match players such as defensive end Ray Drew to get the perfect fit.
Apparently such a change is nothing new for Wilson’s new charges, who say that if Wilson doesn’t think someone is getting the job done adequately, he’s quick with the hook.

“[It happens on a] daily basis,” Bailey chuckled. “He just loves motivating us. He just wants us to play hard.”

Georgia largely stuck with a small rotation of veteran players along last season’s defensive line, but that practice created fatigue that Alabama obviously exploited in racking up 350 rushing yards against the Bulldogs in the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs’ coaching staff has vowed to rotate more players up front this fall -- and Drew and Bailey are among the seven or eight players that Wilson hopes will figure heavily into that rotation.

But they have to prove to their new position coach that they deserve the opportunity, as neither player has been more than a role player thus far in his college career.

“[Wilson] mentioned it to me one time before that he likes competition within the players because if he puts you in a position and you’re not getting it done, he bumps someone else in there,” Drew said. “He wants you to take enough initiative to say, ‘OK, I’ve got to get my stuff together and win my spot back.’ So we look at it as a competition between the two players, but it’s actually just a way to make each other better.”

There should be no shortage of competition for spots in Wilson’s rotation over the next few weeks. Junior college transfer Toby Johnson -- the No. 4 overall prospect on the ESPN Junior College 100 -- is “kicking butt” at defensive end thus far in practice, Wilson said, and other youngsters such as John Taylor, John Atkins and Chris Mayes have impressed him at points.

They have a prime opportunity to solidify those impressions when the Bulldogs hold their first preseason scrimmage at Sanford Stadium on Wednesday -- even if the depth chart will probably remain flexible well into the season.

“We never know what the set depth chart is,” Drew said. “One thing he made perfectly clear to all of us is he does not care who plays. He’s going to put in the guy that is going to play his behind off, do what he’s coached to do and make things happen. So it doesn’t matter if you’re an 18-year senior or if you’re a first-year freshman. If you’re getting it done and you’re doing what you need to do, that’s what matters.”

As of now, the “play his behind off” factor might be the most important element of the competition.

Yes, understanding their assignments and playing with the proper technique will be of utmost importance once the linemen take on the Clemsons and South Carolinas and LSUs that they will face in the first month of the season. But as they enter their first scrimmage, Wilson wants to see them fight for their jobs, viewing competitive fire as perhaps his top means of evaluation.

“Here’s the thing that I would like to see more than anything in our next scrimmage: I would like to see us play extremely hard. I’m talking about with relentless effort,” Wilson said. “And if they are playing that hard, that means they know what to do. And if we will play as hard as we can and know what we’re doing, I think we’ve got a chance to win all the football games that we play.

“And so if we can come away with just those two simple things that sound so simple, we really have become a better football team."
ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt still makes the occasional tongue-in-cheek wisecrack about his lack of vision when he redshirted future All-America tailback Knowshon Moreno in 2006, a season in which he had veterans Thomas Brown, Danny Ware and Kregg Lumpkin -- all of whom made it onto NFL rosters -- in the backfield.

But Georgia’s coach has stepped away from that conservative approach somewhat in recent seasons. Today, if a need exists and a new Bulldog is capable of addressing it, Richt’s coaching staff is more than willing to allow him to play a leading role -- with players like tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, receiver Malcolm Mitchell, outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins and former safety Alec Ogletree making big impacts as true freshmen.

That philosophy will remain evident this fall, particularly on Todd Grantham’s defense which must replace 12 significant contributors. Several of those replacements will be brand-new Bulldogs, while additional reserve roles will also go to freshmen and junior college transfers who impress the coaches over the next few weeks.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTrue freshman Tray Matthews enrolled early and claimed the starting free safety job during an eye-opening spring.
“The big thing is to evaluate the players that we have coming in,” said Grantham, Georgia’s defensive coordinator. “We’ve got roughly I think 17 new faces on our [defensive] roster from last year and we want to do a good job of evaluating those guys early and developing the skillset of those guys as well as the guys that we’ve got that have been here for a while.”

For the most part, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo’s starting lineup is in solid shape as the Bulldogs prepare to open preseason camp on Thursday. There are questions about how the offensive line rotation will shape up and which players will seize roles at receiver and tailback, but most of the key pieces return from last season’s high-scoring offense.

It’s entirely possible, though, that junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph and freshmen Tramel Terry and J.J. Green will contribute immediately at receiver. And it’s entirely likely that either A.J. Turman or Brendan Douglas, if not both, will carve out a role behind Gurley and Marshall at tailback.

“I’d like to have a third and a fourth tailback. ... I do like we got some bigger guys in Douglas and Turman,” Bobo said. “We’ve got to get those guys ready -- get them on special teams, get them playing, get them confidence, treat them like we treated Gurley and Marshall last year because we’re planning on playing them.”

Grantham’s defense is where the greatest concentration of newcomers will be found this fall, however. There are openings on the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary that will almost certainly go to a freshman or juco transfer.

Freshman safety Tray Matthews, who enrolled in January, was the talk of Georgia’s spring practices thanks to a number of big hits. But he’s far from the only new Bulldog who will be up for strong consideration throughout August as the coaching staff attempts to determine which players will contribute in the fall.

Up front, juco transfers Chris Mayes and Toby Johnson and prep school transfer John Atkins all figure to play a role. The No. 4 overall prospect on ESPN’s Junior College 100, Johnson is fully recovered from last fall’s knee surgery and has been working out without limitation this summer alongside his new teammates.

“He’s ready. He’s doing everything we’re doing,” senior defensive end Garrison Smith said. “He looks he’s 100 percent to me.”

Inside linebacker Reggie Carter also made a mark in spring practice and now has company from summer arrivals Johnny O’Neal and Tim Kimbrough, as well as Shaun McGee, who Grantham said will work at strongside and inside linebacker during camp.

And the secondary will be littered with new faces, including juco transfers Shaq Fluker and Kennar Johnson and freshmen Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley. Grantham mentioned Fluker as a candidate to play immediately at strong safety and said Wiggins and Langley will receive similar consideration at cornerback.

Tight end Arthur Lynch, for one, said the 6-foot-1 Langley has been impressive in the Bulldogs’ summer passing sessions.

“I think Langley’s a guy that can be pretty good,” Lynch said. “He’s very athletic and he runs like a deer. He can run for days and he’s very fast.”

Richt’s staff recruited the 31 newcomers with the knowledge that there would be numerous spots to fill this year, and that many of the signees needed to be prepared to play right away. That was the purpose of bringing in a program-high 13 players in January so they could participate in offseason conditioning and spring practices, and it was a factor even with signees who couldn’t arrive on campus until the summer.

They’ll soon get their chance to crack the rotation -- and don’t be surprised if on Aug. 31, a significant number of them are playing scrimmage downs and on special teams in the Bulldogs’ opener against Clemson.

“Anytime you can go against quality people in practice, it allows you to become better and truthfully it allows you to find out where you are,” Grantham said. “It allows you to find out what your strengths are and maybe what the things are you need to work on.”

10 NEWCOMERS TO WATCH

John Atkins, nose guard
Thomson, Ga./Hargrave Military
ESPN ranking: Four stars, Was No. 11 DT when he initially signed with Georgia in 2012
Breakdown: Atkins enrolled in January after spending last fall at Hargrave and ended spring practice as the Bulldogs’ No. 3 nose guard. He’ll compete with Michael Thornton and a fellow newcomer -- juco transfer Chris Mayes -- for a chance to contribute in the middle of the defensive line.

(Read full post)

Roundtable: 2014 recruiting needs 

June, 17, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Nick Chubb’s verbal commitment last week was big not only because it added a record-setting rusher to Georgia’s 2014 recruiting class, but also because -- together with a previous commitment from another elite tailback, Sony Michel -- it addressed Georgia’s biggest need in this class.

The Bulldogs have Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, of course, but they will be draft-eligible juniors after the 2014 season. The only other scholarship backs on the roster are brand-new freshmen A.J. Turman and Brendan Douglas, so Michel and Chubb will add depth and the talent necessary to keep Georgia’s backfield train on the tracks.

With that recruiting need addressed, it brings us to this week’s DawgNation roundtable question: Now that Georgia has addressed its most glaring need for 2014, running back, what is the next position Mark Richt’s coaching staff should square away for this recruiting class?

Spring cleaning: Garrison Smith

May, 15, 2013
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Editor's note: This week we continue to empty our notebook from Georgia's spring practices to tell the stories we didn't get to tell before the Bulldogs' G-Day game. Previously we featured fullback Quayvon Hicks, tight end Jay Rome, defensive end Ray Drew, safety Connor Norman, cornerback Damian Swann and receiver Rantavious Wooten. Today we recap a conversation with senior defensive lineman Garrison Smith.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Even Garrison Smith, Georgia’s lone returning defensive lineman with any significant experience, had difficulty adapting to a new coach’s methods early in spring practice. So he knew that a new coach and a complex defensive scheme would become major learning obstacles for his less experienced teammates.

Jeff Driskel, Garrison Smith
AP Photo/John RaouxGarrison Smith (right) is in the position of having to instruct his younger teammates on the ins and outs of UGA's defense.
“I’m starting over, but I’m just trying as hard as I can and just bringing these young guys up because we’ve got a sophisticated defense and young guys like Jonathan Taylor, Chris Mayes, John Atkins, right now our defense is calculus for them,” Smith said midway through spring practice. “It’s like basic addition and subtraction for me. But for them right now, it’s like they’re doing rocket science. If y’all were to watch some of the film, it would be a funny sight. It would be like they’re creating some type of new defense.”

And it wasn’t just the new defensive linemen who had a lot to learn. Multiple players across the board used the spring as a jumping-off point for their playing careers at Georgia, but the group made rapid progress during that valuable instructional time.

“You can ask [freshman inside linebackers] Reggie Carter and Ryne Rankin about the defense. Like I say, it’s rocket science for them, too,” Smith chuckled. “But that’s just a part of the game when you’re just a young freshman. They don’t expect you to know everything like a senior would, but at the same time, the coaches hold you to a higher standard and they get on you, but that’s just to make you better. They don’t want you to get complacent with not knowing enough. They want to push you as fast as you can so you can learn it.”

Having spent his first three seasons working under defensive line coach Rodney Garner -- who in December returned to his alma mater, Auburn -- Smith had to unlearn some old habits to satisfy new position coach Chris Wilson. It wasn’t like learning an entire defensive scheme, but it required some adjustments nonetheless.

“Even though I’m a veteran, I’m kind of like a freshman all over again because I’m learning new techniques of how to play different things because I’ve got another coach that wants me to play a different way, so I’m having to adapt every day,” Smith said.

That process will continue well into preseason practice, as Wilson continues evaluating and instructing the players who were available in the 15 spring workouts and adds to the mix others such as junior college transfer Toby Johnson, who learned just this week that he will be eligible to compete in the fall.

Smith seemed to like the direction things were heading in the spring, however, noting that the young defense was holding its own against the Bulldogs’ veteran offense more often than experience might have indicated.

“We’ve got one of the best offenses in the country, so if our defense with all these new guys can compete and play on the level of this great offense we’ve got, then the sky’s the limit for us because we’re playing against some of the best right now,” Smith said. “Other opponents, we’re going to be able to match up well against them if we can contain our own offense.”

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