Mike Bobo reared back, grabbed his red hat, and threw it down at the quarterback’s feet.
“We throw it down there!” Bobo yelled, as Hutson Mason stared blankly back.
Then Bobo, Georgia’s suddenly-irate offensive coordinator, turned his ire elsewhere.
“Bottom line there, the tight end gave in! The left tackle gave in!”
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And finally Bobo, turning and walking back towards the sideline, issued his parting shot.
“Last year’s over! You gotta work!”
And this year has all but officially begun for the Georgia football team. It was the first day of preseason practice on Thursday for the Bulldogs, and the dichotomy has been established:
The defense, with all its youth and new faces, is in a patient, wait-and-see mood. Its coaches were much more subdued during the first half of the opening practice.
The offense, with almost everyone back after a record-setting year, is trying to avoid what befell the defense last year: Failure to live up to high expectations.
“First thing (Bobo) said to us – it might have been right before the summer – is that we haven’t done anything this year,” Malcolm Mitchell said. “So we’ve gotta come out there and play, and not worry about what everyone says about how good we were, and how good we could be.”
Bobo wasn’t the only coach fired up during Thursday’s practice. Receivers coach Tony Ball gave it to his players during the same offense-defense drill. At one point Ball could be heard yelling something not fully intelligible, but the word “South Carolina” was mentioned. One would make the easy leap that “Clemson” was one of the words that couldn’t be heard.
Prior to practice, Georgia was reminded once again how monstrous a first month it has to its season. The preseason USA Today coaches poll was released, with Georgia at No. 5, and three of its first four opponents in the top 13:
Clemson at No. 8. South Carolina at No. 7. LSU at No. 13.
“Coach (Mark) Richt’s been saying it’s a race to get ready, because we’ve got a whole bunch of teams we play off the bang, and we’ve got a strong schedule this year,” tailback Keith Marshall said. “We don’t have the time to have bad practices and not get better.”
Junior receiver Chris Conley, apprised of the preseason poll, called the start to the season a great opportunity.
“”Because as soon as we come out on the field we’re gonna have to test our mettle. We’re gonna have to see what we’re made of, and we’re gonna see what Georgia can do,” Conley said.
For the offense, that might be easier, given that 10 of the men who finished last year as starter are back this year. Quarterback Aaron Murray is a fourth-year starter. Tailbacks Todd Gurley and Marshall are coming off their own-record setting year. The receiving corps is overloaded with talent.
Even the offensive line, the top concern, returns everybody. The first-team line at the outset of Thursday’s practice was the same five in the same spots as finished last season, though there was some shuffling around later in practice.
Still, it’s no surprise that Bobo and the offensive coaches would be trying to break down their players’ before (perhaps) building them back up. After all, they witnessed a defense last year that returned an equal amount of starters (10) plus some quality backups after finishing ranked fifth in the nation in total defense. Everything was set up for another stellar year.
Instead the defense struggled for most of the season, before a strong late season, then struggled again at times in the SEC championship and Capital One Bowl.
Mitchell explained why he doesn’t think that will happen to the offense this year.
“I don’t think everybody is in the same situation that they (the defense) was last year,” Mitchell said. “I mean they had a bunch of seniors, a bunch of people who were worried about where they were going. We do have offensive linemen who might be in that place, but as we know offensive linemen don’t get very much attention as the defensive players would last year. So I don’t think we'll have that problem.”
But expect Bobo, Richt and other team leaders on offense to keep pressing this month.
“We’re gonna see how far this team can go, really early,” Conley said. “So with that in mind we can’t prepare as if we’re going up against an easier team in our first game or our second game. We have to be in midseason form in Game 1.”