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Bill King

Junkyard Mail: Getting Dogs’ secondary on track, Clemson game, honoring Dooley and more!

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Can Jeremy Pruitt turn the Dogs' dysfunctional secondary around in one season? (University of Georgia)

Can Jeremy Pruitt turn the Dogs’ dysfunctional secondary around in one season? (University of Georgia)

Bulldogs reserve linebacker Davin Bellamy, a redshirt freshman, was arrested early Saturday morning on charges of DUI and speeding, which means Jordan Jenkins may not get quite as much relief as expected at outside linebacker during the Clemson and South Carolina games.

So, yet another off-season arrest for Mark Richt’s team, and I’m not sure what’s left to say about that other than I’ve given up trying to figure out why so many college players these days keep doing dumb things that they know are going to cost them playing time.

Anyway, let’s dive into some Junkyard Mail. …

Andrew in Charleston, S.C., writes: Hey Bill, I’m sure you have seen ESPNU playing the best games from last season over the past few days. Recently, I watched the UGA vs. LSU game and grew very excited seeing a potent offense that will mostly return to wreak havoc again this year. However, I also watched gross missed coverages and confusion on defense that turned average signal-callers into All SEC caliber players. As was well-documented, the offense, much to the credit of a determined [Aaron] Murray, had to bail out the defense. I am eager to see the difference Coach [Jeremy] Pruitt can bring; I have loved the attitude he has brought to the table. I thought [Todd] Grantham excused much underperformance. On the contrary, Pruitt seems to make no excuses, whether it’s player weight, playbook knowledge, etc. Go Dawgs!

Many folks think the Bulldogs’ 2014 season hinges on that point, Andrew. Barring another run of injuries like the one that derailed the 2013 season, Georgia’s offense should again be extremely potent, even with a new quarterback in Hutson Mason. And the defensive front should be pretty stout. Ah, but the secondary …

A dysfunctional group that was obviously poorly coached last season has lost an awful lot of talent and experience thanks to the departures of starters Josh Harvey-Clemons, Tray Matthews and Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley moving over to offense. That leaves the very experienced but frustratingly inconsistent Damian Swann and a middling starting safety, Corey Moore. JJ Green has turned heads with his progress at the star position since moving over from tailback, and Sheldon Dawson and Quincy Mauger showed flashes of potential last season. Much also is expected of junior college transfer Shattle Fenteng, and there’s some young talent coming into the program.

Of course, the big problem last year was that, at times, much of the defense (particularly the secondary) looked like it didn’t know what page of the playbook it was supposed to be on, and the blame for that rightly has fallen on Todd Grantham and his indecisive calling of overly complex schemes. Richt has made indirect reference to that several times, most recently at SEC Media Days when he said of Jeremy Pruitt: “I don’t think he’s going to call anything those guys can’t execute.” And Pruitt swept into town like a new sheriff this spring, demoting players right and left and even putting walk-ons in starting positions to try and get the message across that everyone had to show up every day and earn their playing time. It helps, of course, that Pruitt is a secondary coach by trade, but will that be enough to turn things around? The folks picking South Carolina over Georgia in the SEC East obviously don’t think so.

Will Crafton writes: Hey Bill, After being at one of Sanford’s greatest games in recent history vs. LSU [last season], I remembered how great the atmosphere was and how we were all given free red shakers before the game. Any chance we can see if that can happen again when we take on Clemson? I think it’d be a great bonus to what is sure to be a hyped crowd and a hyped game. Go Dawgs!

Will the crowd for the Clemson game make as much noise as at last year's LSU game? (Perry McIntyre Jr. / UGA)

Will the crowd for the Clemson game make as much noise as at last year’s LSU game? (Perry McIntyre Jr. / UGA)

You’re right, Will. The atmosphere at that LSU game last year was absolutely electric. Probably the most hyped up I’ve ever seen a Sanford Stadium crowd. And I think it helped the Dogs quite a bit. As for plans concerning this year’s opener with Clemson, I put that question to Emily Deitz, assistant athletic director for promotions, and she said: “We will distribute red shakers at all home games, with the quantities still being determined. … We continue to strive to enhance game day atmosphere for our fans, and shakers have been a strong part of that tradition. We are continually planning ways to give our fans tools to make Sanford Stadium the toughest place to play.” I’d also love to see a pep rally to kick off the season and get the fans revved up early for the Clemson game, but Emily said she had not heard any plans for one and “that is not something that has traditionally been done.” I think maybe they ought to reconsider that.

Nick Gannam writes: Hello Bill, Last year during the media coverage of the uniform redesign I believe I remember reading a quote from someone close to the program that the true silver britches are returning in 2014. We are a few weeks away from Kickoff 2014. Are there any updates regarding shiny pants?

Back in March in a live chat on Georgiadogs.com, Greg McGarity said, “We are working with our partners at Nike to create a more ‘silver’ silver for the Dawgs’ silver britches,” and in May I checked with Senior Associate Athletic Director Claude Felton, who said: “Uniform design and production is quite a lengthy process these days but the new ‘silver’ should be good to go for the 2015 season.” So, not this season, but next.

Jim P. writes: Bill, Before we enter the hectic pace of the season in a month, I would like to propose a proper honor for Coach Vince Dooley. The statue that was put in “left field” away from the stadium is not enough. It is time to rename Sanford stadium to Sanford-Dooley Stadium (respectfully keeping Sanford first). Yes, this has been bandied about previously. And some Sanford family members are against it. That is one reason to keep the Sanford name at the forefront. But two reasons make me want to push this immediately. One, new President Jere Morehead may be more open than our previous president. Two, Coach Dooley is not getting any younger. We should do this while he and his family can enjoy the honor together. One idea has been to name the field. I never liked that. We play “Between the Hedges.” Not at “Sanford Stadium on Dooley Field.” What are your thoughts on a possible petition? Isn’t there a large website dedicated to petitions?  “Change” something or other?

Vince Dooley's name should be represented where UGA plays its football games. (University of Georgia)

Vince Dooley’s name should be represented where UGA plays its football games. (University of Georgia)

Yeah, change.org is a site where you can get petitions going. As I’ve written before, I very strongly believe that naming the southwest portion of the athletic complex after Vince Dooley and putting up a statue in an inconspicuous location that’s a 20-minute walk from the stadium is not enough. That’s not the way the university ought to pay tribute to a man who’s devoted most of his life to UGA and served it proudly. Dooley should be honored where his teams played and won championships. UGA legend Dan Magill wrote way back in 2001 that UGA should honor Dooley by going with Sanford-Dooley Stadium. And that’s my preferred option. However, I disagree with you about the other option: calling it Vince Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium. I’d be fine with either Sanford-Dooley Stadium (has a nicer ring than Dooley-Sanford) or Vince Dooley Field. But whichever it is, now that Michael Adams is gone and the petty feud he had with Dooley is no longer a factor, UGA should do right by its legendary former coach.

Terry Snowden is one of a couple of readers who inquired recently whether Georgia football practices are ever open to public. He writes: Bill, I’d love to spend a Saturday in August taking my kids to the Woodruff Practice Fields to see the Dawgs getting ready for the season. I know that during the season practices are usually closed, sometimes even to the media, but does Mark Richt ever let folks watch one of the preseason workouts?

I didn’t recall that happening since early in the Jim Donnan era, and Claude Felton backed up my memory, saying, “I don’t think I recall one in recent years that was.” It’s a shame, since I remember what fun my son had seeing the Dogs up close back in the Ray Goff days when the Athens Touchdown Club used to hold a cookout before one of the August practices, and then kids got to go on the field and get photos and autographs from players before sitting in the stands at Sanford Stadium and watching a scrimmage. In the Internet age, however, the paranoia level seems to run at a much higher level and I doubt that’s going to change under Richt.

On a subject other than football, Jim Cooney writes: It’s almost that time of the year as fall ball is fast approaching for Coach [Scott] Stricklin’s [baseball] squad. I understand that football is at the forefront of almost everyone’s concerns at this time. However, I have a question about the 2015 season for UGA baseball. I have watched the June 30th video on the Foley Field renovation posted on the Georgiadogs.com site. With another year of UGA’s top signees signing professional baseball contracts this past late spring and early summer, how is the progress coming along for the new Foley Field? A follow-up question would be the expectations of how our new Foley Field will compare to other parks in the SEC? Obviously the [Texas A&M] Blue Bell double-decker park in College Station is larger, as are most other parks in [SEC] West. Personally, I think 4,000-ish seating capacity will be perfect for Athens, however, it must be a total state of the art park to compete with the Alex Box, Dudy Noble and Baum stadiums of the conference. Thank you, Bill, for your time and efforts.

Artist's rendering of the revamped Foley Field. (University of Georgia)

Artist’s rendering of the revamped Foley Field. (University of Georgia)

Jim, the June 30 video with Assistant Athletic Director for Facilities Charles Whittemore touring the construction site is the most recent update, but from all reports the plans for the revamped Foley Field to be ready for the next season are on track. However, increasing the capacity of UGA’s baseball stadium is not part of the plan. The official seating capacity will remain unchanged, at a little over 3,200 but there will be 75 screened-in club seats added behind home plate, and 125 club seats added at the press box level. (Foley can actually hold more; the record currently is 4,461 against Mississippi State in 2009,) So Foley will remain the second-smallest baseball venue in the SEC, with only Kentucky’s having fewer seats. The chief aim of this $12 million renovation is upgrading the facilities for players (including new locker rooms, lounges, video room and training areas) and enhancing the fan experience with new concession and restroom facilities on the expanded concourse. Plus, the press box is being renovated. There’ll also be a snazzy new plaza and entrance to the stadium. So, while Foley won’t get any larger, it should be a much upgraded facility this coming season.

Go Dogs!

Got something you want to discuss concerning UGA athletics? Or a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Email junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

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