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Richt, Johnson ready for season to begin

SMYRNA - For Georgia's two highest profile college football coaches, Tuesday's 2009 College Football Preview Luncheon at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre can be looked at as an end and a beginning.

The event, sponsored by the Atlanta Sports Council, marked the end of the summer's seemingly endless "Rubber Chicken Circuit" of media and booster events talking about what the upcoming season will bring.

At the same time, it marked the beginning of a final week's countdown until players from both Georgia and Georgia Tech report back to their campuses to begin actual preparation for the season.

"I am excited to get (back) on the field," said Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose Bulldogs (10-3 last season) report to Athens on Monday in preparation for their first practice the next day. "There's really more sanity in-season than out of season sometimes in my schedule because there are so many things I need to do that are not necessarily football coaching-related. And now, it's pure coaching - things that I love to do."

Not that Richt and his counterpart at Tech - Paul Johnson - didn't enjoy the few breaks they had the summer.

Johnson took some time to travel to Scotland and play golf at some of the world's most storied courses like St. Andrews, Muirfield and Royal Troon, while Richt "actually took a couple of naps, which is highly unusual for me."

However, both seemed ready to get back to work already Tuesday, with the emphasis on work.

"I always look forward to (the beginning of preseason practice)," said Johnson, who welcomes his Yellow Jackets back to the Flats on Sunday and hits the practice field for the first time Monday. "I enjoy the coaching. I enjoy competing. I don't think anybody enjoys the grind of two-a-days. My favorite (time of the seasons) is the first game week, but you've always got to do a lot of work leading up to it."

Both teams have their share of work to do and plenty of questions to answer before their respective Sept. 5 openers - Georgia on the road at Oklahoma State and Tech at home against Jacksonville (Ala.) State.

Expectations are somewhat lower for the Bulldogs this season than they were this time last year, when they were the preseason choice as No. 1 in the nation by many media outlets.

Among the biggest question marks will be replacing key skill players, including first-round draft picks in quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno.

However, Richt is confident in Stafford's projected successor - senior Joe Cox - and a host of contenders to succeed Moreno, including GAC grad Caleb King, plus what figures to be an experience offense line.

"(Running back) is probably the most competitive position right now," Richt said. "I think any one of the five (contenders) could start. ... I've had good reports (about King in summer workouts) and all the way around for all the running backs. ... I also think they will benefit from a more mature offensive line.

"When we were going into last season, everybody wanted to talk about Stafford and Moreno, even though we had about three freshman and two sophomores on the line. So, maybe we were overrated because (the focus was on just) those two guys, and now maybe we're underrated because those two guys are gone."

Expectations are harder to gauge at Tech, which surprised many observers with its 9-4 season a year ago.

A lot of talk of this year centers around Johnson's spread option offense, which returns eight starters, including preseason ACC Offensive Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer and whether foes will be able to stop it this year.

There's also talk about the Jackets' defensive line, which lost three players to the NFL draft from last season, but does return impressive junior Derrick Morgan.

Overall, the reviews of whether Tech will be able to repeat last year's impressive season - and perhaps even better it - remain mixed.

Some prognostications listing the Jackets as a possible ACC Championship Game and BCS bowl participant, while others have them picked as low as third in the ACC's Coastal Division.

"I think we'll be a better football team this year," Johnson said. "Does that mean we'll win more games? Who knows? One thing I think we have this year is a lot more depth. Last year, if someone went down (with an injury), it was like bubble gum and bailing wire keeping it together.

"We're still young, but I think we'll be a deeper team this year."