Georgia offensive line coach Stacy Searels has been toying with Kiante Tripp about the possibility of switching to offense for some time.
It’s no longer a joke.
Thanks to depth issues and injury concerns, the redshirt freshman officially switched from defensive end to offensive tackle in the Bulldogs’ practice Tuesday afternoon.
“It changes the whole complexion of our offensive line, at least the depth and the athletic bodies that you're striving to recruit,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “It's like getting a commitment from a top two or three tackle in the United States, so that's pretty exciting for us.”
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That may sound like overstatement, but Richt isn’t far off in that assessment.
Rivals.com rated Tripp as the No. 9 offensive tackle prospect in the country when he signed in 2006. Scout.com had him as the No. 14 overall offensive lineman.
But Georgia had him pegged as a defensive end from the beginning and the defensive coaches still believe the 6-foot-6, 270-pounder would have been a good player on that side of the ball.
“We understand needs and this and that, but it's always hard when you lose one that you think can play on that side because they're so hard to come by,” defensive line coach Rodney Garner said.
“Is he young? Yeah, but we thought in time he had a chance to be a really good player.”
Now that ability will have to be realized on the offensive line, a group that has little depth -- particularly compared to Tripp’s former position, where there are seven scholarship players listed on the depth chart.
Richt said the move started innocently enough, while he was having a conversation with Tripp in Monday’s practice.
“He said, ‘Coach Searels is kinda playing around with me maybe being a tackle,’ and I said, ‘Well, what would you think of that?’” Richt recalled. “That's when he said, ‘I played both in high school. I liked ‘em both, coach. I would do that.’”
By that night, the plan was in motion for Tripp to switch sides. Richt introduced him in the offensive line meeting the next day, an introduction that was met with enthusiasm.
“Linemen need help, they want help. If you said, ‘Hey, here's a new tailback, some all-American from wherever,’ the tailbacks would probably be in there grumbling,” Richt said. “But when a new lineman comes in the room, they get excited.”
Tripp took practice repetitions with both the starting and second-string offenses and, while his technique could use some polish, he impressed his coach with his natural ability and his enthusiasm about the move.
“He absolutely has a ton to learn, but his body type and his athleticism is tailor-made for the position,” Richt said. “I think it's really gonna help Georgia and it's gonna help him too.”
Tripp’s move was the one getting all the attention on Tuesday, but another defensive end is getting a look at a new position as well.
Jarius Wynn, who came to Athens in the spring as one of the nation’s most highly recruited junior college defensive ends, began working at defensive tackle on Monday.
The Georgia Military product said after Saturday’s scrimmage that he’s getting comfortable at the end, although he admitted to having difficulty against the play-action pass. Now that he’s being cross-trained inside, he’ll have a completely new set of concerns.
“If you can play (defensive end), you can play (defensive tackle). It's just that the difference is gonna be pad level,” Garner said. “That's gonna be something that he's got to be very, very, very conscientious of.
“It's a chance just to make us more athletic.”
Garner’s wont is to never be satisfied, always expecting more out of his defensive tackles.
In typical blunt fashion, Garner laid out how he wasn’t especially pleased with one of his newcomers after Tuesday’s practice.
“Corvey was progressing actually pretty well until today. Today he went backwards,” Garner said. “I don't know if it was just hitting the wall or whatever, but today was not a good day for Corvey Irvin.”
It wasn’t that Irvin had done something wrong, Garner said, it was that the Georgia Military transfer hadn’t done enough.
“We're in a bottom-line business -- production,” Garner said. “He didn't produce today.”
Garner said not to read much into the depth chart changes at defensive tackle, where Kade Weston is currently working ahead of Geno Atkins.
And then he took the opportunity to prod his other starter.
“Y’all know how my line changes, my line changes every day. It’s whoever's working the best, whoever’s making the plays,” Garner said. “That's all I'll ask of them. They’ve all got a chance.
“Just as soon as somebody gets good enough, I’m gonna bench Jeff Owens. I’ll tell you right now,” he continued with a laugh. “Because his fundamentals are terrible. As soon as one of ‘em gets good enough that I can put him on the bench, he's going.”
It appears as though Brandon Miller’s time at middle linebacker has ended.
Richt hinted as much after Saturday’s scrimmage and went a bit further on Tuesday, when he admitted that Dannell Ellerbe is getting nearly all the first-team reps in the middle and Miller is back at strongside linebacker, where he spent his first three seasons at Georgia.
“If (the first game) happened today, we'd probably play Ellerbe at (middle) and Miller at (strongside),” Richt said.
Miller said the coaches didn’t explain the change to him, but said he is content to play any of the linebacker positions. He has crosstrained some at each.
“I'll play any one of them,” Miller said. “I had a good time learning (middle) and there may come a situation where I may have to switch over and play (middle). So now I'm better equipped.”
Richt seems to believe his natural position is at strongside, though, and noted how effective Miller has been since returning to that spot.
“He's the guy that is physically dominant. He quite frankly is throwing our tight ends around,” Richt said, describing how Miller has shut down nearly every outside run in his direction since moving back. “Brandon's just thrashing everybody right now. I don't know if we've gotten around the edge yet with him playing the (strongside) linebacker.”
Safeties Reshad Jones and Antavious Coates were back in pads on Tuesday, although both were limited in practice.
Jones has a bone bruise on his knee, suffered while making a tackle in Saturday’s scrimmage. He said after Tuesday’s practice that he should return today or tomorrow.
The coaches are taking things slowly with Coates, whose surgically repaired knees have been swollen and sore because of the volume of work in practice. Coates last played a game in 2004 before three separate anterior cruciate ligament tears have ended each ensuing season.
Tanner Strickland (foot sprain) and Kris Durham (heat/concussion) watched from the side on Tuesday, while several other banged-up Bulldogs were able to do some work on green no-contact jerseys.
Among those in green were cornerback Bryan Evans (hamstring), tight end Tripp Chandler (ribs), cornerback Thomas Flowers (shoulder), offensive guard Scott Haverkamp (ankle), offensive lineman Chris Little (wrist), offensive lineman Chester Adams (ankle), fullback Jason Johnson (heat), offensive tackle Josh Davis (shoulder), defensive lineman Ricardo Crawford (heat) and receiver T.J. Gartrell.
Defensive tackle Tripp Taylor was back in a white defense jersey after being held out of Monday afternoon’s practice with heat-related issues.
True freshman Aron White is working as a tight end in certain receiver-heavy formations, although his 230-pound frame makes it difficult for him to line up as a true tight end. “He's light. He's getting tossed around a little bit,” Richt said. … Safety Andrew Williams and linebacker Chris Gaunder, both seniors, were awarded scholarships on Tuesday, joining deep snapper Jeff Henson as walk-ons who received such an honor this preseason. “We've been able to help three young men that are busting their tail for us,” Richt said. … Rep. Paul Broun (R-Athens) visited practice on Tuesday and spoke briefly with Richt. Broun was elected last month to fill the House of Representatives post that became vacant upon the death of Rep. Charlie Norwood. Both Broun and Richt attend the same church, Prince Avenue Baptist, in Athens. … The team will hold its final two-a-day practices today, starting with a kicking scrimmage at 8:15 a.m., followed by the annual “watermelon cuttin” to celebrate the end of end of two-a-days. The team will have a full team practice at 4:35 p.m.