Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Punishment Run

I don't know much about the Washaun Ealy situation. In fact, I've only just read about it in the past ten minutes. But, I certainly don't understand it.

February, 2000 - One frigid morning, at 4:30 am, my alarm went off. I should have jumped out of bed, grabbed my morning breakfast (a banana) and headed off to Butts-Mehre. That's what I should have done. What I did was hit snooze. Three times. By the time I actually got to the locker room, the team was already on the field, and any hopes of me sneaking in after stretching and no-one noticing was gone. I trotted down to the field and jumped in with my group. No one said a word. I went through the entire workout, pushed through every drill. At the end of the workout, Coach Donnan called the team together and praised us for what we'd done. Then he said, "Dukes, see Coach Fears about being late."

I hadn't gotten away with anything.

Coach Fears told me to come back in the afternoon, after my classes were done. So, I did. I put on my workout gear and reported to the weight room. He walked me out onto the practice fields and said, "Start Running." I asked "when do I stop?" His reply: "When I tell you to." I started running laps around the three fields. Now, these fields were stacked horizontally...meaning I was covering between 550 and 600 yards per lap. Sixteen laps in, I saw Coach Fears emerge from Butts-Mehre. As I rounded what I thought to be the final turn, he had a smile on his face. "Keep up the pace." That was all. I kept running. At lap 20, Mark Kirschbaum (and I know I'm demolishing his name) came out...and laughed. I was finishing lap 24 when Coach Fears came back out and said simply, "you're done." Sweating and exhausted I grabbed the water bottle he had in his hand. "You gonna be late again?" he asked.


And for the remainder of my career, I never was.

So, like I said, I don't understand Washaun's situation. How is it that someone can continue to screw up? Isn't that the whole point of punishment?

GO Dawgs.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Is he a tailback, or a feature back?

Outside of Knowshon Moreno, Georgia hasn't had a "feature" runningback since Musa Smith. I'll hold to the idea that Musa was only a feature back because of lack of options. He was steady, strong, didn't fumble much, and was going to get the tough yards. But, he wasn't going to beat many in a foot race. Olandis Gary hit the backup-come-starter lotto in Denver (much like fellow Bulldog Terrell Davis) but neither was a dominant threat at UGA. Patrick Pass had success with New England but wasn't a homerun hitter as a Dawg. Jasper Sanks was a flameout. Musa was a good back, a serviceable one...and made a pro life in Baltimore. Verron Haynes was one of the hardest working guys I ever played with, and he was a third down man in Pittsburgh. Of the Ware-Brown-Lumpkin trio, it's Danny Ware who's made the biggest impact....and that's as a special teams man and late-game back, wining a Super Bowl with the Giants. King and Ealy? Again, serviceable backs...but not studs.

Simply put, Georgia has produced only two real prime-time NFL starting backs since Garrison Hearst - Robert Edwards (injury killed an All-Pro career) and Knowshon Moreno.

And we were somehow called "Tailback U" at one point? Of course, I guess that's the thing - Georgia has had a number of good tailbacks. GOOD tailbacks. What we need, well, what I want to see, is a GREAT tailback. I want to see the guy who, when you need the win in the fourth quarter, you can hand him the ball ten straight times, and he's going to carry your team to the finish line.

I watched last season, hoping we'd find him. When we tried it with Ealy, he fumbled. We lost. When we tried it with King, he fumbled. We lost.

Now, I don't know what will happen with Crowell...but I've watched him play a time or two, and there's one thing that he appears to have that I haven't seen out of many UGA backs in my 14-year association with the team - and that's touchdown-from-anywhere ability. That kind of ability smacks of "feature back." Still, he IS a freshman. But, Richt will not have the same mentality with Crowell that he did with Moreno. Crowell stated in his announcement that he wants to go to Georgia, be a freshman all-american, play for three years, and go to the league.

There is absolutely no hidden agenda there. The kid wants to play now, play alot, and then cash in. If he truly has that kind of ability, he won't be a tailback. He'll be a feature back...and we'll win a good many games.

Go Dawgs.

If you're 20 and you know it, shut your mouth...

I've been reading some truly enlightened chatter by internet jackholes that really gets my grits cookin'. These geniuses say things like "Mark Richt can't win," "Georgia never does anything with its talent," "Mark Richt can't coach 'em up," etc. Then, when I look at the pictures attached to blogs, I see twenty year old kids who probably started loving Georgia two years ago when they enrolled in the school. I don't blame them...I didn't grow up a Georgia fan. I fell in love with UGA on a visit during my Senior year in high school. So, I get it...I understand that these kids don't know much beyond their own experience at the school.....BUT


Twice Richt has brought SEC titles to UGA. Three times, he's won the SEC East. All of that has been done with recruiting classes that may have been good, but none have ever been comparable to what Richt has brought in this year.

True, it's been six years since his last SEC title, and I don't make excuses for that. I believe, just as many of you do, that it's been too long. However, unlike the grand majority of people who are caught up in the ridiculousness that is the "Fire Richt" campaign, I understand that there are going to be years when you just plain miss. Stafford, for all his talent, and for all the coaching given him (and don't fool yourself for one second and believe he didn't get coached up like crazy), never got it done. He suffered by having an underperforming defense on the other side of the ball. Why does that affect him? Simple. Gunslingers are going to make mistakes. They are going to trust their arms too much, and they are going to throw interceptions. When they do, they need a strong defense that can bail them out of the mistake and not give up points. We didn't have that.

For a few years, Willie Martinez allowed our defense to crumble around us. Some sort of haze fell over the coaching staff as a collective (that's the only way I can dismiss it), and they lost their way. In the meantime, the coaching in the rest of the SEC improved, and wins became harder to come by. It took a season too long, but Richt made the tough choice and started firing defensive coaches. Then he brought in some high-quality guys. How do we know they're high-quality? Well, one of them just got poached to the NFL....been a while since THAT happened at UGA, huh?

So now, Richt sits on the most talented team he's had in Athens since "the good ol' days" when he was winning titles. He has a fiery defensive coordinator in his second year (as most of the starters will be as well). There is a level of excitement around the program that hasn't existed since the 2008 preseason when the Dawgs were ranked #1. There is a sense of urgency in the weight-room like none any of these kids has experienced before. There is a fire burning in Mark Richt that hasn't been seen since he was a wet-behind-the-ears head coach on the way to his first SEC title. I see very very good things on the near horizon, much to the dismay of many blog-commenters out there.

I gotta pull for the guy. I'm not pullin' for him simply because I know him and think he's a great man. I'm not pullin' for him because I believe he's great for the program that he revived, and I see that evidence in this recruiting class. I'm not pullin' for him because he's a Christian who believes in building the man as well as the football player.

I'm pullin' for him so that when he DOES take this team back to title town, the "other half" of Dawgfandom out there will finally have to SHUT THE HELL UP.

Go Dawgs.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

He's 6'4, 265, and in the BACKFIELD.

Imagine for a moment that you're a 6'2 235lb linebacker. You see the center and guard part the d-linemen and you know what's coming. A runningback is coming straight up your gap. So, you drive forward, ready to plug that hole, and you come face-to-face with a 6'4, 265lb back who blows you up. Directly behind him? The sub-6' tall, 200lb runningback who no longer has to worry about a middle linebacker and can instead set his sights on outmaneuvering a safety as he sprints to the endzone. Even better...imagine being the same linebacker attempting to TACKLE that monster of a fullback on the goalline. What you now have, is a picture of the NY Giants' 2-back system. True, when Brandon Jacobs is in, he's generally in at tailback. But, the Giants are not above having him block for backfield-teammate Ahmad Bradshaw.

Why am I taking about the NY Giants?

Because I want you to understand what moving Bruce Figgins to fulltime full-back can mean. Bruce has had a tough career at UGA. After catching a TD on his first collegiate reception, he didn't see the endzone again for three years. That'll burn. An injury hampered his progress, and though he was one of our better blocking tight-ends over the past few years, he often lost playing time to the two better pass-catchers, Orson Charles and Aron White. Now, with Arthur Lynch set to be a big-bodied blocker and capable pass option, and with 5-star Jay Rome hitting campus, Figgins' playing time at TE would be sure to dwindle.

So what do you do? You throw him in the backfield at fullback where your two top options have just graduated. You're basically adding a sixth offensive lineman to the mix...but this one has the speed and athleticism of a tightend. Last season, UGA threw the ball to backs out of the backfield only 29 times...the lowest since 2005, a Richt era-low of 26. Can you imagine a full-back screen with Figgins toting the rock? Or, even better...a screen to Crowell or Ealy or King or Malcome or, dare I say it....CARLTON THOMAS with Figgins leading the charge?

This is an off-season move that I don't only support, I stand up and applaud. Fullbacks are generally known for being shorter, stockier guys...little bowling balls that get out and block like beasts. Figgins IS a Beast. At the end of the line, he's a guy who is fairly evenly matched against a DE. In the backfield, he's more likely to contend with a blitzing linebacker or DB.

I like his chances.

Go Dawgs!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"But can he pass block?"

I saw that question in the comments section on the Bulldog Blog today. It references, naturally, newly-anointed "Savior" of the program, Isaiah Crowell.

First off, you'll notice I've placed "savior" in quotation marks. The reason for this is simple. I don't believe he makes or breaks our football team. I am a firm believer that a team is a TEAM first, and though stars may help the team reach its highest potential, no one player elevates a program from the dirt to the sky. I'm sorry, it just doesn't happen. For all the credit everyone wants to give Marcus Lattimore, that team has been getting consistently better for years, and he may have been the final piece of the puzzle. Cam Newton was a HUGE addition at Auburn...but without excellent play by Nick Fairley and Michael Dyer, I don't know that they win the title. Do I think Crowell has the potential to be a huge part of UGA and any success we may achieve in 2011? Yes. Do I think we should all be pinning all our hopes on him? Hell no.

Here's why:

As a sophomore at UGA, I was getting ready for my first spring with the team. We warmed up before our first scrimmage, stretched, and did some positional drills. On one particular drill, I fired off the line and locked out the Guard in front of me, Randal Kendrick. As I did, Josh Mallard did the same against center Curt McGill. Josh fought through Curt, slinging him to his right....directly into my knee. The pop was audible, and I hit the dirt, my MCL having suffered a grade 2 tear.

I wouldn't practice for the remainder of spring training.

Now, my injury was no big loss to the football team. They were suddenly a man short on scout-team defense for the spring, but I doubt it cost us any games in the fall. Still, I share this anecdote for one simple reason. In a single act on the most routine of drills, a player can be hurt and lose weeks of competition.

In no way to expect this to happen to Crowell....but it can. I am not saying this to put that kind of fear into anyone's mind. What I'm telling you is, we gotta wait and see. I watched Crowell beat my own LaGrange Grangers on ESPN in September. He looked incredible. Then again, the defensive linemen at LaGrange are smaller than some D-1 DBs.

All of that being said, let me also offer this:

If he's healthy, this kid will be playing. I don't care whether he can pass-block or not. In the past, that has been a reason why one player or another may not have played as immediately as expected. BUT, if you remember, that was because the HB position was hotly contested by multiple players, and the coaches wanted the best all-round back in there. How much difference, truly, is there between King and Ealy? I pose that question simply because I believe that if Crowell is far-and-away a better RUNNER than anyone we have, he'll be carrying the ball.

"But Dukes! Our Play Action game is DEPENDENT upon the defense believing the guy in the backfield will carry the ball. If we start pulling Crowell on passing plays, the defense will KNOW!"

Ok, fair point. However, it's not like we don't have other backs who CAN run the ball. All you're really saying is that when King or Ealy is in, the defense wouldn't bite on a fake....which could actually open running lanes for them in those situations if they were reading pass-all-the-way. Also, Crowell is a good out-of-the-backfield receiver....something that was sorely lacking in last year's offense. So, I highly doubt Crowell will come out in all passing situations.

In fact, there is something to be said for what could become a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude of, "Guess what...We're running straight at you. Deal with it." I like deception as much as the next guy, but I'm also a big fan of just being good at the things you're good at...and then crushing people with it. Now, in order to do that, we will need some greatly improved offensive line play. But, just as offensive lines can make runningbacks better, runningbacks can make offensive lines better. As an offensive lineman, it gives you a great amount of confidence to know that if that DE beats you to the outside, and you just keep riding him that way, the RB will have good enough vision to see his cut-back lane. Crowell has pretty great vision.

Anyway, ultimately, I think he plays right away - but only if he's willing to get in and earn it. Neither of the starting tailbacks is going to just roll over for this kid, and RFr Boo Malcome probably isn't buying into the hype either. So now, the question becomes...will Crowell actually elevate the play of ALL RBs? That's what truly elite players do.

Go Dawgs.