ATHENS, Ga. — Mark Richt didn’t take the time to check with his assistants before answering a question about Branden Smith’s potential as an offensive player. In Richt’s mind, Smith was clearly a candidate to play on both sides of the ball.
Smith, a five-star recruit out of Atlanta, was a standout player at cornerback, receiver and returner in high school, and while defensive coordinator Willie Martinez expects him to provide an immediate impact in Georgia’s secondary, he can’t disagree with Richt’s projection.
“There’s no doubt that we have plans to start him on corner, he’s going to be a returner and also give him a little package to play some receiver or running back,” Martinez said. “That’s one of the reasons why we wanted him. I’m for winning games, and if we’ve got to play kids like Branden both ways, we’re going to do it.”
The process will start with Smith on defense, however, and Martinez said there’s an opportunity for the freshman to start immediately.
With junior cornerback Asher Allen leaving a year early to enter the NFL draft, there is little experience at the position outside of senior Prince Miller, and Martinez said Smith will be in the mix for a starting job along with Sanders Commings, Vance Cuff and Brandon Boykin.
“He’s going to have every opportunity to compete for a job, for playing time,” Martinez said.
The oldest tailback in Georgia’s backfield is a third-year sophomore, so running backs coach Bryan McClendon knows he won’t have the luxury of experienced depth. So when Washaun Ealey arrives to start his Georgia career in August, McClendon said he will have just as good a shot at landing the starting tailback job as anyone.
“He’s going to have every opportunity just like the rest of those guys to come in and show what he can do,” McClendon said. “It’s going to be on Washaun to see what he can and can’t handle, and that will determine how early he plays.”
The potential is certainly there for Ealey. McClendon said the Emmanuel County Institute product has good speed, can run between the tackles and doesn’t shy away from contact with defenders.
Despite the fact that Ealey has yet to take a college snap, the attribute that impressed McClendon the most, however, was his experience.
“The biggest thing that stood out to me was that he’s played in a lot of big ballgames,” McClendon said. “In the SEC, we play a lot of big games, and a lot of those moments that are going to tell the difference in a game, and you want a guy that wants the ball, and he’s one of those guys.”
Tripp back to DE
Kiante Tripp arrived at Georgia a defensive lineman. When the 2009 season kicks off, he figures to be there once again.
Richt announced that Tripp, who played right tackle, left tackle and tight end in 2008, will move to defensive end this season after a stint on offense that lasted less than two years.
“He came to me with that request,” Richt said. “He looked at our depth chart and saw the issues there with some of the guys that weren’t going to be there in the spring and also kind of had a desire to get back in that role.”
Tripp was penciled in as the starting right tackle in fall camp last season, but moved to left tackle after Trinton Sturdivant was lost with a season-ending knee injury. He was benched three games into the year, however, and was alter moved to tight end due to a rash of injuries at that position. He eventually moved back to the line but saw little playing time the rest of the way.
“Kiante stepped up when we had a need, and he’s doing that again,” offensive line coach Stacy Searels said. “We have some defensive ends injured, it’s a spot where we need help, and he’s stepping up and being a team player.”