A closer look: Georgia opens spring practice

ATHENS, Ga. -- I had a chance to meet with Georgia coach Mark Richt, first-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and several of the players earlier Wednesday.

The Bulldogs open spring practice on Thursday, and here are few thoughts, notes and other nuggets:

Richt said overhauling his defensive staff in the offseason and firing Willie Martinez, John Jancek and Jon Fabris was the most difficult thing he’s ever had to do professionally.

“I can’t think of anything else that was more gut-wrenching for me -- period,” Richt said. “They’re quality men and quality coaches, too. It just got to the point where I felt a change needed to be made to get where we wanted to go.”

Richt said he wasn’t pressured by anyone at Georgia or on the outside to make the move.

"No, it was strictly my decision," he said.

The feeling around the SEC is that Alabama and Florida have run off and left everybody else in the league.

Richt said it’s hard to argue that based on the last two seasons.

“They did the last couple of years, but this is a new year,” said Richt, wearing his familiar smile.

“You’ve got to give credit to Florida and Alabama. The last two seasons, they’ve taken it over. But again, it’s a new season. Everybody’s got to prove it again.”

Richt said he doesn’t anticipate coming out of spring practice

with a starter at quarterback.

Redshirt freshmen Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger will battle junior Logan Gray for the job.

“The goal is to get the right guy,” Richt said. “ If we can determine that after spring, that would be great to know throughout the summer who that guy is. But I think the chances of that are going to be fairly slim.

“The thing about the quarterback position as you evaluate it is that you’re not going to be able to play a game with him, because we’re not going to hit that guy. Now, if we decided to make every quarterback live, we’d probably know a lot more about him at the end of the spring. But it’s not worth taking that risk.”

And even when the Bulldogs settle on a starter, Richt said that could change once the games begin.

“You may think you’ve got your No. 1 and then you start playing the games and you’re on national TV and the bullets are flying,” Richt said. “Sometimes, you’re three, four or five games into it before you get a gut feeling of who it should be or you’re really certain who it should be.”

Murray is up to around 210 pounds. His goal is to be at 215 by the time the season gets here.

He came to Georgia weighing 195 pounds and said two years of participating in the Bulldogs’ strength and conditioning program has made a huge difference for him.

“The big thing is being able to take the pounding you take at quarterback in the SEC,” said Murray, who rushed for more than 900 yards as high school junior, but only played part of his senior season after breaking his fibula.

Richt said sophomore running back Washaun Ealey has really taken off

in the offseason conditioning program and is even faster and quicker than he originally thought.

“Washaun will only be better next season,” Richt said. “He will be in much better condition, will understand much better what we’re trying to do, and he’ll understand what it means to play in the league.”

Ealey was on the receiving end of the now infamous eye-gouging attempt by Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes last season.

Ealey maintains that he has no hard feelings against Spikes and even said Spikes wasn’t the first Florida player to try it in last season’s game. Ealey said safety Ahmad Black also stuck his fingers through Ealey’s facemask earlier in the game.

“He never got to my eyes,” Ealey said. “Those kind of things happen in emotional games. It’s not something you want to happen, but it does happen.”

As a rule, Grantham thinks the 3-4 defense will allow the Bulldogs to be more balanced against multiple formations.

He said the version of the 3-4 the Bulldogs will play is very similar to what Alabama is running under Nick Saban. Grantham worked under Saban at Michigan State.

“It’s a little bit unusual as far as you can’t always declare who that fourth rusher is,” Grantham said. “There are more ways you can easier pressure the quarterback out of the 3-4, I feel like.”

One of the first priorities for Grantham as the Bulldogs make the switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 this spring is evaluating who can actually play the outside linebacker position and who can’t.

Justin Houston, Cornelius Washington and Montez Robinson will be starting out as outside linebackers.

“Even though we have some names there, we have to find out who can do it and then the other thing is trying to find our depth in the secondary,” Grantham said. “Who can play different positions?

“We’ve got a stack of guys and have to shuffle through them and see who can help us. Maybe some of those inside guys will have to help us at outside linebacker. That depth chart is going to change a lot.”

The Bulldogs are particularly thin at cornerback

, and it’s no secret that they will need to stay healthy there. One guy to watch is redshirt freshman Jordan Love, who has looked good in mat drills. He had an injured foot last season. Grantham said sophomore Sanders Commings would also work at cornerback this spring.

Junior college newcomer Jakar Hamilton, who’s already on campus, is a good bet to be one of the Bulldogs’ starting safeties in 2010. Grantham has really been impressed by what Hamilton has done during the offseason program, and sophomore cornerback Brandon Boykin said Hamilton is somebody he’s eager to see on the practice field beginning Thursday.

“We’ve been doing passing drills, and he’s looking good,” Boykin said. “I can’t wait to see him when we get the pads on. He’s getting it in the film room as well.”

One of the things Georgia defensive end Demarcus Dobbs

likes about the switch to the 3-4 is that he feels like it’s going to free him up to make more plays.

“From the things we’ve been watching on film, there’s more freedom,” Dobbs said. “It’s more attack, attack, attack, and you’re not sitting back. I’m excited to see what it’s going to look like when we get out there.”