August 16, 2008

Dawgs No. 1 - again

The national media continues to give the Georgia Bulldogs plenty of love after Mark Richt's squad was tabbed the nation's No. 1 team in the Associated Press preseason poll.

It's the first time the Bulldogs have ever been atop the AP preseason poll after a previous high of No. 3 in 2004.

"To me I can't think of another word except excitement," Richt said after Saturday morning's brief workout at the team's Woodruff Practice Facility. "I think it's exciting for our program that people feel that way about us. It fires me up. It's a lot of responsibility that goes along with it, but the football world thinks we've got a shot and they're holding us to a high esteem right now. We need to do everything in our power to keep it there. It's a good, positive statement for Georgia football."

Georgia received 22 first-place votes and 1,528 points from the 65 voting members. Ohio State was second, followed by Southern Cal, Oklahoma and Florida.

Richt said he spoke with the team about the No. 1 ranking before Saturday's practice. The Bulldogs were also tabbed the No. 1 team in the USA Today Coaches Preseason Poll.

"It's obviously an honor because Georgia's never been it, but it means nothing until you get out on the field and prove it," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "We've got to go out there and play football the way we know how and see what happens."

When asked what the national media knows that the Southeastern Conference media doesn't, Richt shrugged. During SEC Media Days, conference beat writers tabbed the Bulldogs to finish second - in the East Division.

"They know that it's a very rugged schedule and I'm sure they're looking at LSU and Florida back-to-back as a factor and thinking that would be too much for us to overcome. That would be my guess," Richt said. "But we all know that top man, bottom man, it doesn't take very long. It takes about 60 minutes."

Ball still not taking chances with Moreno

Running backs coach Tony Ball is in somewhat of a quandary regarding running back Knowshon Moreno.

While Ball insists there's nothing wrong with the redshirt sophomore that will keep him off the field, he admits it's getting to the point where he wants Moreno to start getting some work.

At the same time, Ball doesn't want to rush him, either. Moreno has been wearing a green non-contact jersey for the better part of two weeks and Ball said that will probably be the case for a few more practices.

"I don't think I'm overcautious because he needs work. He's still learning, he knows that, but there was a point in time where he was having some discomfort in his shoulder," Ball said. "He never wanted to go into green; I had to make him and I was doing it because I was looking at the long run. I don't want him to go into the season where he's got a nagging injury and now we're dealing with that all the time, and we still may. But I'm looking at what can I do to help him now."

Ball said there has been one bright spot about Moreno's lack of practice time. It's given him the opportunity to see more of Caleb King and Richard Samuel, along with Georgia's other young backs, in game-type situations. Ball said that King and Samuel are continuing to battle for the No. 2 spot behind Moreno.
On the other hand, Moreno needs his practice time as well.

"He needs as much as he can get. He's very athletic, he's instinctive, but sometime when you don't think about certain situations you sometimes forget how to make a defense do what you want it to do, to press or track, to work a leverage or understand your blocking schemes," Ball said. "He's still young in that sense, understanding how to set it up and in situations you know, to work on some tools to help you escape a would-be tackler, or get the yardage, or more important to finish a run and protect yourself.
"So he needs to work. That's the only downside. He needs that work and he knows when he's in there that I need him concentrating on those little things."

Gray looking forward to special team duties

Backup quarterback Logan Gray said he's not concerned about returning punts if that's what coaches want him to do.

"I'm not worried about getting hurt. We've still got Matthew and Joe Cox and I'm just trying to help the team with that," Gray said. "If they want me to return punts, that's fine. We have a lot of guys who have a shot at it. We'll just see how it plays out."

Thursday, Richt announced that Gray, Moreno and freshman Carlton Thomas were all getting looks at punt returner.

That's not the only special teams role Gray is likely to play. Exactly, what he wouldn't say. "I don't think Coach Fab (John Fabris) would want me to say," Gray smiled. "But I'm on a lot of them right now."

It's believed that Gray could also see time on the punt coverage and kickoff coverage teams where he would be used as a gunner.

As far as returning punts, Gray said there are actually some similarities between that and playing quarterback.

"Playing quarterback you have to make a lot of decisions and I think when you're at punt returner making good decisions is part of it," Gray said. "Hopefully, I can do it and be consistent. That's probably the biggest thing."

Consistency is apparently the case with Moreno, too.

"Can he do it? Yes. How much is he that guy who can make the right decisions and do those types of things that he'll need to do? I don't know. But if you teach it to him, yes," Ball said. "We'll have to wait and see. Has it been discussed, yeah but that's going to be up to Fab and ultimately it's going to be up to Knowshon."

Stafford not worried about receivers' reps

As many as six different receivers have missed practice time at one point or the other, but Stafford said the lack of reps isn't necessarily a concern.

"It's OK to miss some reps," Stafford said. "They're getting some routes on air with nobody on them, but at least they're running around. I think most of them will be back real soon, if not by game time."

Redshirt freshman Walter Hill (broken hand) is considered the most seriously of the wideouts, but Richt said Friday he believes the Gainesville native will be back in time for the season-opener Aug. 30 against Georgia Southern.

As for Stafford, the junior said he was pleased with his performance during Friday night's scrimmage at Sanford Stadium where he completed 10 of 11 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns.

"I felt good about it. We weren't taking a bunch of shots deep, we were just trying to move the ball and do some different stuff," Stafford said. "We moved the ball well, threw a couple of touchdowns. It went pretty well."

Injury update

Backup defensive tackle Kade Weston was wearing a green jersey Saturday morning. Richt did not have an update on any potential injury to the junior but it did not appear to be serious. … Backup defensive tackle Brandon Wood (foot) and offensive lineman Chris Little rode stationary bikes during the approximately hour-long practice session.

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