ATHENS, Ga. -- It’s been a busy day meeting with Georgia players and coaches, and let me start by saying the $39.5 million expansion and renovation of the Butts-Mehre football complex is gorgeous.
The SEC's football facilities arms race never ceases to amaze me. I can tell you this: With the Bulldogs’ new digs, they’re sure not going to lose any recruits simply because they’re lagging behind in facilities and player amenities.
“It’s more about showing the players that you’re going to be first class in everything you do,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose new office overlooks what will be two new practice fields.
Richt also has an adjoining conference room that looks down on the inside portion of the new complex, which includes a 20-yard turf field, where players have been working out and conditioning this offseason.
The Bulldogs open spring practice on Thursday, practicing once and then taking off for spring break.
Here are a few notes, observations and other nuggets I gathered while visiting with the players and coaches. Check back on Thursday, and I’ll have several more items on the Bulldogs:
Leaders galore: Richt is excited about the number of leaders on this team and how that leadership is spread out among the players.
“I think we have several guys who are serious about leading this team in the right way,” Richt said.
Junior linebacker Christian Robinson was even more direct.
“We’re holding each other accountable and have the right kind of attitude,” Robinson said. “I think we’ve eliminated some people maybe that were cancerous, whether it was people who graduated or might not be here anymore. We’ve become a team of guys that want to be here and want to do well for Georgia.”
Bulking up: The early returns on Georgia’s revamped strength and conditioning program have been promising. Richt promoted Joe Tereshinski to director of strength and conditioning following last season. Tereshinski replaced longtime strength coach Dave Van Halanger, who’s now an administrative assistant to Richt.
“They’re getting leaner, gaining more weight and I know they have more stamina in the way they’re lifting,” Richt said. “That’s what we’re trying to produce.”
Of note, Robinson is up 15 pounds to 230 after playing at 215 last season. He’s moving over to Akeem Dent’s middle linebacker spot. Tight end Orson Charles is now pushing 250, and quarterback Aaron Murray was adamant that it was a chiseled 250. Murray has also gained 15 pounds and weighs 215 going into the spring. Alec Ogletree, who’s moving from safety to inside linebacker, is pushing 240 pounds.
The biggest transformation has been the one by junior receiver Tavarres King, who said he weighed 158 pounds when he got to Georgia. He’s now up to 196. More importantly, King said he couldn’t bench press 225 pounds one time when he first arrived and can now put up 15 reps.
Ealey, King responding: Richt said junior running back Washaun Ealey has responded exactly the way he hoped he would after being suspended from team activities. Also, Richt said senior running back Caleb King is having a tremendous semester academically and “working his rear end off and taking things very seriously.”
With heralded freshman running back Isaiah Crowell arriving on campus this summer, Ealey and King might want to make this their best spring yet.
“I’m sure [Crowell] is on their mind, because that’s what everybody is talking about around here in the Bulldog Nation,” Richt said. “I’m sure he’s gotten their attention.”
No pressure: Speaking of those in the Bulldog Nation, they would dearly love to see Crowell come in and do for Georgia next season what Marcus Lattimore did for South Carolina last season as a freshman running back.
Richt isn’t ready to go that far … not yet.
“I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on him, but I can tell you I expect him to come in here and make an impact,” Richt said.
Safety options: Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will look at several different combinations at safety this spring.
Junior Bacarri Rambo returns at the strong safety spot, but will also work at free safety. Senior Jakar Hamilton and junior Shawn Williams will get first shot at the other starting job, although Grantham said there’s a chance that junior cornerback Sanders Commings could move over to safety.
The two incoming freshmen who will start out at safety when they arrive are Corey Moore and Chris Sanders.
Grantham said Nick Marshall and Damian Swann would start out as cornerbacks. Malcolm Mitchell was also a talented cornerback in high school, but it looks like Grantham is going to lose him to offense.
Boykin's return: Senior cornerback Brandon Boykin admitted that at one point he thought he was leaving early for the NFL draft.
“But I didn’t want to go out that way,” Boykin said. “That bowl game made me sick. I felt like I owed it to a lot of people to come back and help get this program back to where it needs to be.”
Boykin, a journalism major, is getting ready to launch his own blog.
Plugging in Jones: The addition of Jarvis Jones will give the Georgia defense the kind of explosive athlete it didn’t have at linebacker last season, Grantham said.
“Justin Houston was a great pass-rusher, but he couldn’t do some of the things Jarvis can do,” Grantham said.
Jones, who transferred from Southern California, will start out at strong side linebacker after working some at inside linebacker during the bowl practices last season. In nickel situations, Jones will line up more as a pass-rushing end.
Cheating in the SEC?: The Bulldogs are coming off a top 10 signing class nationally, although Richt agreed that recruiting in the SEC is as challenging as it’s ever been.
Asked if cheating in the SEC was as rampant as many have suggested, Richt offered a diplomatic, but honest answer.
“I’ll just say this: We’re going to do it a certain way, and I think that way can and will be successful -- period,” Richt said. “I don’t care what everybody else does. I’m concerned about what I can control.”