ATHENS, Ga. — With all the new faces on offense this year, coach Mark Richt might like to have a little time to break in the rookies and get a feel for how the unit functions before taking off the training wheels.
With high-powered Oklahoma State looming in Georgia’s first game, however, that’s a luxury Richt said Georgia can’t afford.
“We’ve got to turn it loose,” Richt said. “We can’t sit there and think too much. We’ve got to let them all play, put them in a position to make plays, and hopefully they will.”
The combination of Oklahoma State’s quick-strike ability and potentially sizzling temperatures in Stillwater, Okla., for the game, Richt said he’ll have little choice but to put his young players on the field and give them a chance to make an impact.
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That list of new faces includes first-year starting tailback Richard Samuel, two freshmen tight ends in Orson Charles and Arthur Lynch, and freshmen receivers Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten, along with first-year starting quarterback Joe Cox. With so many inexperienced players on the field, there are plenty of questions for Richt and his staff, but he said the Bulldogs aren’t planning to wait long to find out who’s ready for the job.
“If you’re not quite sure of all your personnel, you’re more apt to make sure the right guys are getting the ball, which is not as much fun as a coordinator,” Richt said. “When you’re sitting there going, ‘Well, so-and-so is in the game, so I’ve got to do this or that,’ I hope that we don’t have to do that. We’re not going into this game saying that’s what we’re going to do because we feel like we’ve got to let these guys go out there and make plays.”
If there’s an upside, however, it’s that so much transition can affect both sides of the ball.
While all the changes on offense make game-planning for the opener a tricky task, it also complicates the job for Oklahoma State’s defense, Richt said.
“I’m sure they’re sitting there not sure who’s going to be where or who’s going to make plays or who we’re going to put in position to make plays,” Richt said. “The only thing they probably know for sure is A.J. Green. Other than that, they’re probably guessing a little bit.”
Georgia defensive line coach Rodney Garner said last week he was struggling to find a way to get freshman tackle Abry Jones on the field, despite a crowded depth chart at the position.
One possibility might have been giving Jones a chance to play off the edge instead of relegating him to the interior line, but Richt said that’s not likely to happen immediately. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean Jones won’t see playing time this season.
“Right now, he’s inside, and we don’t see him being outside,” Richt said. “Abry has done a very nice job. Abry is right on the cusp of getting some good playing time. Right now we think he’ll play.”
Saturday’s practice marked the official end of the preseason, with the focus Monday shifting entirely to Oklahoma State as Georgia begins its usual practice routine leading up to a game.
While not every question the coaches had entering fall practice has been answered, Richt said there’s no mistaking the improvements he has seen in the preparation his team has gotten this preseason.
“By a long shot, we were able to prepare the way we normally like to in terms of the number of days we scrimmage and tackle to the ground and every single day in inside drill was live tackling,” Richt said.
The biggest difference, Richt said, has been a reduced number of injuries. While a number of players missed some action with minor hamstring injuries, there haven’t been any catastrophic injuries similar to what occurred last preseason.
The result has been an increased focus on the fundamentals, particularly in the area of tackling. Richt said in addition to the tackling during scrimmages and inside drills, the team added tackle work to perimeter drills as well — a new addition from past seasons.
“It’s a world of difference when you look at how many times we were in pads and tackled to the ground,” Richt said.
O-line ankles OK
Offensive linemen Ben Jones and Chris Davis both missed practice again Saturday, recovering from ankle sprains Richt said shouldn’t cost them playing time.
“I expect Ben to be practicing Monday, and Chris, I’m not certain,” Richt said. “Ben might do everything, but my guess would be just scout work. Chris may be ready for scout work, too, I’m just not sure.”
For the second straight day, Kevin Perez handled the first-team snaps at center, and while the 265-pound junior might be a bit overmatched in size, Richt said he’s confident that Perez can get the job done if called upon.
“Perez knows what to do, his body just didn’t get as big as he would hope, and we would hope it would,” Richt said. “But he’s very smart, he’s been tremendous in our meeting rooms, and now that he’s had this opportunity to play, he’s done a very admirable job. We could certainly function with him.”