Guerry Clegg

Guerry Clegg: Richt, Dogs going through a learning process

Shortly into his 15th spring football preview media session last week, Mark Richt was told that he needed four wins to catch Wally Butts for second place on Georgia's all-time list with 140 wins.

"Is that right? I know Coach Dooley's got over 200. That's the only thing I know," Richt said. "I didn't know who's next in line, so you saying that's news to me. But you mostly reflect on what you're going to get done today. You can't look too far down the road. The goal right now is to just prepare these guys to be ready when those games come."

Richt's legacy has been the topic of much debate and divide among Georgia fans. He's aware of it -- how could he not be? -- and shares their frustration of not winning a national championship. Last season's top-10 finish was of little consolation even to Richt.

Pro golf bestows the unofficial distinction/burden to one player: "Best player to not win a major." If there were a similar distinction during Richt's tenure -- "Best program that has not won a national championship" -- Georgia and Oregon would comprise the short list, the Bulldogs for their longevity, the Ducks for playing in two national championship games.

But Richt remains as hopeful as ever, even as the program has undergone substantial change over the last two years. Last year, it was the unplanned -- but much needed -- overhaul of the defensive staff, most noticeably coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, along with reorganizing the special teams duties. This year, the changes have come on offense, with Brian Schottenheimer replacing Mike Bobo, and in strength and conditioning, with Mark Hocke coming in from Alabama to modernize the workouts.

"There's a learning curve for everybody to a certain degree," Richt said. "But it's healthy. I'm enjoying it. Learning some new things. There's a lot of things that we've been doing that kind of the proof's in the pudding on the film. Coach Schotty really likes it, so we're just kind of melding everybody's ideas together where it makes sense for everybody."

As for the new strength and conditioning approach, Richt likes that he sees players losing fat and gaining muscle and endurance. John Theus, the senior offensive tackle, was asked to describe Hocke.

"Wild," Theus said. "The energy level has just skyrocketed. It's really made workouts fun."

After two months of reshaping bodies, the Bulldogs will spend the next month reshaping the depth charts. The offense returns plenty of talent and experience in all but two positions. But they happen to be two critical positions -- quarterback and center.

"Yeah, the QB and center, right up the gut," Richt said. "Very important guys that make a lot of decisions at the line of scrimmage. Guys that have a very strong leadership role, historically, your quarterback and your center. So yeah, it's going to be a very important task to replace those guys and get the right guys in there."

The battle between Hunter Long and Isaiah Wynn at center won't get nearly as much scrutiny as will the three-way competition at quarterback. Of the two with game experience, Brice Ramsey held a slight edge over Faton Bauta last season. But Bauta outplayed Ramsey last spring. Redshirt freshman Jacob Park might be the most intriguing of the three.

As a starting linebacker, Jordan Jenkins saw a lot of Park running the scout team last season.

"Park? Park is a shifty cat, and he can sling that ball," Jenkins said. "He's a different type of quarterback. I think he's the shiftiest out of the quarterbacks we have, and I would definitely say he's the fastest. He's quick. I'd compare him to maybe a taller version of Maty Mauk. Trying to get him down on some plays where he's stretching it out can be difficult. He's taken quite a few of us out."

Richt has had quarterback competitions before. There was 2006, it was Matthew Stafford, the true freshman and early enrollee, competing with Joe Cox, Joe Tereshinski III and Blake Barnes. In 2010, it was Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenburger and Logan Gray. But this, Richt said, is "by far" the closest competition.

So he suspects it will last into August preseason practice.

"With the amount of transition, learning going on, I'm not certain we'll be able to make that determination at that point. I'm not sitting here saying we're going to have to name a number one at the end of spring," Richt said. "I'm not think that's going to be the case or that's a big goal of ours. The big thing is to give these guys opportunities and see how they handle it and evaluate and try to make that determination when we get there."

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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