Higher stakes for Dogs' summer workouts

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia’s football players are just getting started with their summer conditioning and informal passing sessions, but the buzz surrounding those workouts is a bit different this year.

As members of a team that is sure to enter the season with a top-10 ranking and as a favorite to win the SEC East, the Bulldogs can pave the way for a successful season by beginning to build a strong knowledge and conditioning base now.

“Right now it’s early in the summer, but I think that everybody’s really excited about not only the season, but preparing for the season and I hope that they follow through with what I think they want to get accomplished,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Because if they’re in great condition and they’re stronger and they’re quicker as a team, it’s going to be a great way to start our camp. Then it’s going to be our job as coaches to try to have the right amount of contact, the right amount of conditioning and those types of things.”

Many Bulldogs have already taken to Twitter to gripe about the intensity of strength coach Joe Tereshinski’s summer workouts, while others have described the new elements speed coach Sherman Armstrong brought to their conditioning routine.

Armstrong emphasizes flexibility in his teaching, which Bulldogs safety Shawn Williams said will be apparent to observant fans this fall.

“I think a lot of people will be able to notice that we’re more flexible and explosive,” Williams said, “like even on the field getting in and out of breaks with receivers and being low in your backpedal at defensive back and even offensive linemen being low and explosive getting out of their stance. I think it will help us a lot.”

Summer conditioning is always an important factor in a football program’s success, but the second season under Tereshinski’s watch sees the Bulldogs attempting to meld his old-school strength training regimen from last season with methods that will also help the players get into ideal playing shape.

As a group, the players made great strength gains in 2011, but Williams admits there were times where they faded late in games -- and reversing that trend might help them avoid a loss or two in the fall.

“I guess that happened a little bit,” Williams said of the occasional late-game fades, “but as long as we’re in shape and know everything that we need to know to play, I feel like we’ll be all right.”

Between the 7-on-7 passing sessions that started last week and a month’s worth of preseason practices in August, the Bulldogs should have no problem learning what they need to know. Even the freshmen.

Quarterback Aaron Murray said the veterans take it slowly as 7-on-7s begin in order to help newcomers such as receiver Blake Tibbs, tight end Ty Smith and cornerback Sheldon Dawson begin to grasp their assignments in Georgia’s offensive and defensive schemes.

“Especially with the younger guys, we like to bring it in a little slower for them and introduce plays to them so we can go in there and watch a little film, draw up on the board for them, go out there and run the routes first and then go in 7-on-7 after that and make sure, mostly for the young guys, to make sure they understand the plays and they’re not left behind while the older guys work,” Murray said. “So we do a good job of making sure we incorporate them with everything that we do.”

Richt said he will watch Georgia’s trio of freshman running backs with particular interest in August, as there is playing time available if tailbacks Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley or fullback Quayvon Hicks prove that they understand their positional responsibilities.

“You’ll get a pretty good idea of how hard the freshmen worked in the summertime to learn what to do because when you begin to install things; it’s going to be very obvious,” Richt said. “If they line up and break the huddle focused and know what to do or are looking around to [running backs coach Bryan] McClendon to try to help them or asking the quarterback what should he do or where should he line up. So if you don’t know what to do, you have no chance.”

That applies to players of all experience levels, but particularly for the freshmen who have likely never encountered a playbook as complex as Georgia’s.

It is highly possible that the Bulldogs might need players such as Marshall, Gurley, Hicks and Smith to contribute this season, so summer workouts are more than simply an informal acclimation period for some newcomers. If Georgia eventually lives up to its preseason billing, the players and coaches will certainly point back to these summer sessions as the time when they laid the groundwork for that success.