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Sunday May 29th, 2016 7:31AM

Richt says Dogs go through 'outstanding' opening practice of spring

By The Associated Press
ATHENS -- Georgia coach Mark Richt described Tuesday's opening day of spring practice as "outstanding" and said it was important the arrests of four players on Monday did not put a damper on the session.

"We definitely wanted to focus on the excitement of spring ball," Richt said. "It's obvious we had some guys do some things that were foolish and there will be consequences for that, and I'm not ready to talk about that at this moment. We've got a lot of guys who have been doing extremely well and we didn't want to take away from the excitement of day one."

Richt said there was "a lot of excitement, a lot of anticipation" for the first practice with new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Also new to the defensive staff are assistants Tracy Rocker, Kevin Sherrer and Mike Ekeler.

Pruitt set the opening-day tone with his high-decibel instructions in the portion of the practice open to reporters.

Richt said the new assistants and a new method of organizing the practice helped make it feel like his first season at Georgia.

"It felt as close to 2001 since I've been here," Richt said. "It felt like the first day of a new staff and a lot of that is obviously because we have a new staff on defense. But even changing the practice schedule as much as we did, it was brand new for me, it was brand new for the offensive staff."

The four players were arrested on Monday on charges of illegal check-cashing and released on bond Monday night.

Starting safety Tray Matthews, defensive linemen Jonathan Taylor and James DeLoach received double payments for checks of $71.50 issued by the Georgia athletic department, University of Georgia Chief of Police Jimmy Williamson said Tuesday. Wide receiver Uriah LeMay was charged with cashing a roommate's check after the check already had been deposited through a mobile app, according to Williamson.

Each of the four participated in Tuesday's practice.

Tuesday also was the start of senior Hutson Mason's only full season as the starting quarterback.

Mason took over as Georgia's starter when Aaron Murray tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against Kentucky on Nov. 23 and had surgery three days later.

Mason passed for 299 yards and two touchdowns in Georgia's 41-34 win over Georgia Tech to close the regular season. He passed for 320 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the Bulldogs' 24-19 loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.

It will be a major surprise if Mason is not the starter when Georgia opens its 2014 season on Aug. 30 against Clemson. Richt said sophomore Faton Bauta is ahead of freshman Brice Ramsey in the competition to be Mason's backup.

Another key area to watch is the offensive line, which lost three starters: guards Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette and tackle Kenarious Gates.

The defense lost only two starters. Defensive end Garrison Smith was the only senior starter in 2013. Safety Josh Harvey-Clemons was dismissed from the team last month.

Richt has said he wants to limit tailback Todd Gurley's action this spring after Gurley was slowed by leg issues last season. Even so, Gurley was wearing his regular red No. 3 jersey and showed no sign of being limited.

Tailback Keith Marshall, recovering from knee surgery in October, was one of several players who were on the field but wearing green non-contact jerseys.

J.J. Green, who showed promise while rushing for 384 yards, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, and three touchdowns as a freshman, has moved from tailback to cornerback. There would have been few carries for Green this year if Gurley and Marshall are healthy.

Among other players in green jerseys: tight end Jay Rome (foot), wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell (knee), Justin Scott-Wesley and cornerback Reggie Wilkerson (knee). Richt said Mitchell had soreness in his knee and didn't complete the practice.
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