August 5, 2011

Ok..so what's different?

For many in the Bulldog Nation, it's a story that's been told before.

Following what was considered a disappointing 8-5 season in 2009 that culminated with a win over Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl, Georgia players and coaches promised things would be different in 2010.

Leadership, some claimed, was going to be better than ever. Finishing worse than 8-5 was not going to be an option. Georgia finished 6-7 in 2010.

Flash forward to 2011. With fall camp now underway, players are making similar claims, stating that leadership is better than before and steps have been taken to ensure last season's failures don't repeat themselves this fall.

Why will this year be different? What tangible evidence can support this claim?

Quarterback Aaron Murray[/fn] was asked that very question.

"I think great leadership is just about communicating with all the players on the team," Murray said. "I think we've got such a close-knit team right now, which has bought into what we want to do as a team and understand what it takes to win. It's easier to be a leader and to motivate guys when they want to work hard or tell guys to go watch film when they are willing to do that."

Of course, 6-7 is enough to stick in anybody's craw. At least it should be.

"It's definitely a whole new mindset after finishing 6-7. We really had to go back and look at what went wrong as a team and what you did to contribute to us going 6-7," Murray added. "A lot of guys realized what they needed to do in order to improve as individuals and help this team. I definitely feel like we put in the time this season to improve our team and get ready for a great season."

Junior linebacker [db]Christian Robinson claims everybody has "bought-in" to how head coach Mark Richt is going about trying to change the Bulldogs' fortunes.

Those who didn't are no longer with the team.

"We came here to win and we came here to play. All these guys, whether they are the guys who are here or the guys who are gone, they came to play here," Robinson said recently. "They were recruited by other schools. They chose to come to Georgia. Its difficult having those guys who came in with you leave. But if people don't want to be here ... it's going to make the team better. We're going to go to war with the guys who want to be here."

Center Ben Jones gets a lot of credit - and rightfully so - for helping take up the responsibility of actually making sure leadership counts for something this fall.

As Jones puts it, he doesn't want to be embarrassed again.

"We've really put an emphasis on finishing the fourth quarter this year," Jones said. "There were a lot of games we lost last year in the fourth quarter all because of a fumble, a sack at the end of the game or a big play on defense. So we're really focused on doing the little things, so that when it comes to the fourth quarter, we can finish the drill."

Richt talked about having the proper mindset when he met with the team on Wednesday prior to Thursday's first practice of the year.

During the conversation, he harkened back to 2002, his second season as the Bulldog coach.

"We were in this room last night and I referred to the 2002 season, the preseason, and some of the things we had talked about," Richt said. "There are some similarities. It hadn't been 20 years since our last championship, more like five or six, which is too long in my mind. But we talked a little about the mindset of the team and the program, going into 2002, and we did mention that it had been 20 years. We talked about some of the reasons why it had been 20 years."

So what about 2011?

"The mentality has got to be different," Richt said. "We need to make sure our mentality is right."

According to Murray, that's just what has happened.

"It's just continuing to learn and it starts with Ben Jones and Brandon Boykin - they've been through it all and I think they've been waiting for their opportunity to be leaders of this team," Murray said. "They're two tremendous players and I think they know what it takes to be winners; it takes good leaders and now that they've got the spotlight on them, they've done a great job of getting guys to work out and show up for things like that."

As for Murray, although he's entering just his second year as starter, teammates say the redshirt sophomore is taking leadership steps of his own, such as not being afraid to jump a teammate if the proper effort is not being made.

"I'm still working on that leadership role. That's something Coach (Mike) Bobo and Coach Richt challenged me this offseason to do is to increase that role a little bit. I definitely think I'm starting to earn the trust of my teammates a lot more," he said. "I think my comfort level of what I need to do has increased and that's allowed me to work with other guys, to work with younger guys, work with the lineman, the receivers and really get to know what they're doing a lot better."

Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at dash@ugasports.com.