“This spring feels like the first time in some ways,” said Coach Mark Richt, who is entering his fifth season at Georgia. “It’s definitely a transition year.”
For the first time in the Richt era, the Bulldogs will take the field today with a quarterback other than David Greene and a defensive coordinator other than Brian VanGorder. Plus, defensive end David Pollack, receivers Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown, linebacker Odell Thurman and safety Thomas Davis -- stalwarts all -- have moved on.
“We did lose some key players, but we only lost eight scholarship players out of 85,” said Richt, who led the Bulldogs to a 10-2 season and final national ranking of No. 7 last year. “It’s not like we’re losing this huge amount of players. There’s the feel that we’ve lost a lot more than maybe we did.”
That’s because of what those eight did. Greene took the NCAA record for games won with him, and Pollack carried off almost every piece of hardware a defensive lineman can win.
All the departures will make for a more interesting spring than in years past simply because Georgia has more questions to answer. The biggest is: How will D.J. Shockley do now that he finally gets to take over for Greene?
“I know there is going to be a lot of hype around,” the senior said. “I’ve been excited since I got here, but it is a little more exciting knowing you are going to be the starting quarterback.”
The Bulldogs won’t be installing a new offense for Shockley. Eighty percent of the offense will look exactly the same to Georgia fans, Richt said. The other 20 percent will be plays that have been in the playbook but are more suited to Shockley’s athletic style.
“I’d hate to have a guy learning an offense for four year and then change everything,” Richt said.
There will be hardly any changes on the defense even though it will have a new coordinator. Willie Martinez was promoted from secondary coach to replace VanGorder, who was credited with turning Georgia’s defense into one of the nation’s best and moved on to a job in the NFL.
The Bulldogs hired two new coaches to replace VanGorder’s linebacker coaching spot and the job left by running backs coach Ken Rucker, who went to Texas. John Jancek, who was the defensive coordinator at Central Michigan last year, will coach linebackers, and former Bulldog Kirby Smart, who coached defensive backs at LSU last year, will coach the running backs.
Adding new faces to the staff has helped the Bulldogs stay grounded, Richt said.
“It makes everybody revisit what we do and why,” he said. “It keeps you from going too far in your scheming rather than watching your fundamentals. There will be some rough spots, but I would think a lot of the kinks will ge ironed out this spring.”