ATHENS, Ga. – With Georgia’s team at the bottom of the SEC standings, Bulldogs coach Mark Richt is admitting to a few decisions he’d like to have back this season.
One of them involves preseason practice.
Citing the Bulldogs’ continued issues with blocking and tackling, Richt said Tuesday that his squad did “the least amount of that in camp than we’ve ever done” for fear of injury before the season opener.
“Is it biting us in the rear end right now?” Richt said. “Probably so.”
After Saturday’s 29-27 loss at Colorado dropped Georgia to 1-4 and sent more heat in Richt’s direction, the coach switched gears Monday at practice. For the first game-week Monday during his 10 seasons as head coach, the Bulldogs held full-contact, full-pads, 11-on-11 scrimmage drills pitting the first units on both sides of the football.
The losing side had to run sprints each time, and players were still doing so on the practice field until well after the sun went down Monday night.
“I thought the players responded beautifully,” Richt said. “I thought it pumped some life into those guys. I think they had fun playing football and blocking and tackling. We haven’t been blocking and tackling good enough. So I’m going back to my original philosophy when I came to Georgia and that’s when I would say, ‘It’s hard to get better blocking and tackling without blocking and tackling.’”
Richt’s opinion was changed over the years by injuries being logged during the preseason. For the 2010 season, he cut out two-a-days for the Bulldogs.
Players also noticed a difference in contact work at practice this year.
“In recent years, it was a lot more live tackling and tackling to the ground,” senior linebacker Akeem Dent said. “In the recent years, there have been a lot of injuries heading into the season. I think was something he was trying to prevent.”
“A lot of it had to do with the one season when we had 32 guys hurt going into the year,” Richt said. “You start out with camp and another one goes and another one goes, and you’re like, ‘My gosh, what are we going to do?’ There are different schools of thought. One is you have to block and tackle to block and tackle well. The other one is ‘Hey, let’s get everybody to the gate healthy and let’s kind of play our way into this thing and pick our shots’ when we do those types of things.”
While it has become a theme to Tennessee week for Georgia's team, Monday wasn’t the first instance of heightened practice intensity this season. Three days after a loss at South Carolina, the Bulldogs held what several players at the time said was the most physical practice they’d experienced.
But the trade-off came with injuries, most notably the first of cornerback/punt returner Branden Smith’s two concussions this season and an aggravated turf toe injury that meant season-ending surgery for reserve nose tackle Justin Anderson.
Richt said no additional injuries were logged Monday, though Tuesday’s practice is expected to feature more of the same intensity.
The emphasis after the South Carolina loss was defensive tackling, while now it also includes blocking. Asked about his own defense producing the kind of plays that Colorado linebacker B.J. Beatty made by forcing a late Caleb King fumble to kill a potential game-winning drive and preserve a victory, Richt replied, “If they would just not block us, I think we would make more plays like that.”
“Really, that’s what happened,” Richt said. “We didn’t block him.”
Despite Richt’s regrets about the preseason, linebacker Christian Robinson put the blame more on players that aren’t producing.
“We had designated times to tackle and hit and scrimmage and things like that (during preseason),” Robinson said. “I felt like we had a great camp. The defense, I felt like we learned what we were supposed to do. I really don’t disagree with what we did. ... I’m not going to point any fingers, but people (on the team) know who needs to step up.”