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August 1, 2010

After long offseason, it's practice time

Finally, preseason practice is ready to get underway and Mark Richt couldn't be happier.

It's been a long off-season for the Bulldog head coach, who like his players, are anxious to get back to the business of wiping away the sour taste left by last year's 8-5 campaign.

"I can tell you that we're an excited bunch of coaches," Richt said. "We're very anxious to get this thing started, get 'em in camp and begin the preparation for the season."

Talk about a crazy off-season.

While most fans and even the players themselves appear to be enthusiastically charged by the hiring of new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, there were plenty of other unwelcomed distractions following the arrests and subsequent dismissal of Zach Mettenberger, Montez Robinson and Ty Dittmer.

Other alcohol-related arrests, not the least of which included that of former athletic director Damon Evans, brought the school and program more negative attention.

Of course, recent word that the NCAA would be conducting an inquiry suddenly put the spotlight on wide receiver A.J. Green, causing even more questions and concern.

For the record, Green has publicly denied having ever been to Miami, much less that he attended the now-infamous party allegedly thrown by a yet unnamed sports agent.

Although Georgia officials won't comment on the inquiry until its completion, Richt said recently he expects Green will be on the field when the Bulldogs take to the Woodruff Practice Facility for their initial preseason workout of the 2010 campaign.

But first things first:

At 11 a.m. Monday, Georgia will hold its annual preseason media day at Sanford Stadium before hitting the practice field at approximately 3:30.

"From what I hear from our leaders, our players have had an outstanding summer and have really paid the price," Richt said. "There's energy that we have had this off-season that we probably haven't had in a while, quite frankly."

There's a couple of very important reasons why.

First is the arrival of Grantham, the long-time NFL assistant who was hired by Richt to replace former defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, who was fired back in December.

Grantham has already brought big changes to the Bulldog D, switching over from the 4-3 to the 3-4 and promising plenty of blitzes, twists and stunts to make life on opposing quarterbacks as miserable as possible.

"I was talking to (fullback) Shaun Chapas and I can't wait to see what the defense does," Richt said. "I think we're all excited to see how this thing unfolds."

Granted, there will be adjustments, not just for the players but the other defensive coaches, a group that includes inside linebackers coach Warren Belin, secondary coach Scott Lakatos along with Rodney Garner, the staff's lone defensive holdover.

"Let's face it, Coach Grantham is really the only one that truly understands what he's trying to accomplish," Richt said. "I'm still learning it, Coach Lakatos is still learning it, Coach Belin is still learning it and Coach Garner is still learning it. There's energy in knowing that you've got to prepare and be out of your comfort zone a little bit."

The buzz around quarterback Aaron Murray is the preseason's other big storyline.

A redshirt freshman, Murray beat out Logan Gray for the starting quarterback job in the spring and heads into preseason as a solid No. 1.

But questions still need answering.

The Bulldogs have the benefit of returning 10 offensive starters, but having a quarterback who has yet to take a collegiate snap will always cause a certain level of concern until he proves he can do it on the field.

"I know we've got a redshirt freshman quarterback, but Aaron came in as a mid-year enrollee and has been through a spring, went through a season and went through last spring. He understands our systems well," Richt said. "Yes, he's young but because he's surrounded by a bunch of veterans and a bunch of guys that have really surrounded him and want him to do well, I think we're in good shape. But we've got to be careful to go at his pace. If we do that, we'll be OK."



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