ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- Mark Richt dusted off an old speech on the
eve of Georgia's first practice. He hopes it works out like it did in 2002.
The Bulldogs began preseason workouts in sweltering conditions
Thursday, only appropriate since their coach is definitely on the hot seat with Georgia coming off its first losing season of the Richt era. Heading into his 11th season in Athens, the coach knows he must
turn things around quickly.
His players are eager to do their part. "We all take it very personally," defensive end Abry Jones said. "We don't really want to be seen as the Georgia years where they had the down years. No one wants that on their record when they leave here."
Speaking with his team the night before, Richt brought up many of the same things he said before the '02 season. The Bulldogs went on to capture their first Southeastern Conference championship in 20 years.
Georgia won the SEC again in 2005 but has been surpassed in recent years by conference rivals such as Florida, Alabama, LSU and
Auburn -- all of which have won national titles.
"There's some similarities," Richt said. "It's not been 20 years, but it's been five or six years. That's too long in my mind. We talked a little about the mindset of that team going into 2002... We talked about some of the very same things."
He doesn't want the players thinking about his future. "I don't think it's been an issue at all," Richt said. "I'm not going to say the guys haven't heard it. But when they're in here or on the practice field or in the strength room, all that stuff, everything is geared toward this season and the excitement of it and the fact that we have a chance to have a great year."
The SEC sure appears wide open. Defending champion Auburn must replace Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and Florida is breaking in a new coach, Will Muschamp.
South Carolina has been tabbed as the favorite to repeat as champion of the East, but the Bulldogs will get a chance to make their mark when the teams meet in their traditional conference opener in Athens on Sept. 10.
"People are gonna talk and say what they want to say," cornerback Brandon Boykin said. "That's part of the game. Ultimately, we know that we've got to go out there, take care of our business and win games. The rest will take care of itself."
At least Richt isn't having to answer questions about breaking in a new quarterback. Aaron Murray excelled as a redshirt freshman, throwing for 3,049 yards with 24 touchdowns and only eight
Murray should be more comfortable in the offense as a sophomore
but he won't have his best receiver, A.J. Green, who gave up his
senior season and was one of the top picks in the NFL draft. While one guy drew most of the attention a year ago, Murray is counting on several receivers to fill the huge void left by Green.
"We've got seven of eight guys who could start game one," the quarterback said. "We're that deep."
Having spent a year in coordinator Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme,
the defense figures to be the team's strong point, at least in the early going while Georgia breaks in new starters at not only receiver, but running back.
Washaun Ealey and Caleb King both left the program, and touted
freshman Isaiah Crowell is expected to quickly assume the role as
the main guy taking handoffs from Murray. Richt has not ruled out Crowell being the starter when the Bulldogs open Sept. 3 against Boise State, but the coach is also quick to note that every freshman has a lot to learn.
"I told them all, 'Your goal is to learn what to do,"' he said. "Most of them have been here all summer. They realize we've got some pretty good players on the team. Now, we're going to start installing things, and we're going at a veteran pace, not a rookie pace. Their heads are swimming already."
The Bulldogs, like teams across the South, had to deal with a
blistering afternoon for their first practice. The temperature was in the mid-90s, and the humidity made it feel like the 100s.
Jonathan Jenkins, a 340-pound nose guard and another of the
team's top signees, was helped inside during the middle of practice
with what might have been a heat-related problem, though it didn't
appear serious. Georgia will need everyone on board for what it hopes to be a comeback season.
"It's extreme motivation to hear people say coach Richt might be on the hot seat," Jones said. "For us as players, to have put him in that kind of position, we're extremely motivated to help him out and show what a great coach he actually is and show what great players we are."