Georgia head coach Mark Richt laughs during in the G-Day game in Athens, Ga., on Saturday April 6, 2013. (Photo/ Taylor Craig Sutton, Taylorcraigsutton@gmail.com)

The first dose of April showers accompanied the end of spring practices for Georgia’s football team on Thursday.

The 15 practices helped lay the foundation for next fall’s roster, but head coach Mark Richt said the top spots on the depth chart have never been more wide open at the conclusion of spring than they are this year.

“We still don’t know for sure who’s going to play where, who’s going start,” he said. “We have a good idea of who’s getting closer to being ready to play, but as far as nailing down starting positions, I can’t think of a year where I’ve had more uncertainty as far as who’s going to start.”

It’s not a lack of talent, he said, but simply the fact that this spring’s practices just haven’t been enough time to identify the clear-cut choices at certain spots.

“I feel like we’ve got the right ingredients,” Richt said. “I feel like we’ve got the right talent base, it’s just a matter of who’s going win it, and are they going to be mature enough to play well-enough, early enough especially with how this season begins.”

This time last year, a shortage of offensive linemen sparked questions about what Georgia was going to do with it by the time the season began. Those questions were answered by the Bulldogs’ record-breaking offense, but once again, the offensive line has come back into the spotlight.

Only this year, it’s the good kind of problem.

Richt said that the backups have begun to catch up – in terms of skill – to the starters.

“It’s not so much a question of do we have enough guys that can play the positions, it’s more of a question of where everybody’s going to line up,” Richt said. “The entire line’s back from last year, and we did well on offense – we broke a bunch of school records. I’m not disappointed in the offensive line, but I see some guys that weren’t starters or players last year starting to get better, starting to get healthier. I think the competition of the guys that were a little bit farther behind are catching up … and they’re trying to earn that playing time.”

The offense as a whole was expected to dominate the rebuilding defense this spring because of its relatively minimal losses, but that hasn’t been the case.

It was the No. 1 defense that won G-Day last Saturday, and the assumption the offense was going to roll out of bed and maintain its explosive numbers has been proven false so far.

“I think the offense performed well most of the spring, but it wasn’t like it was some kind of a mismatch,” Richt said. “I’m hoping that the offense understands that last year was last year, and you can’t say, ‘Well, we were really good last year, we don’t lose many guys so therefore we’re going to be great this year.’ That’s not always the case. You have to earn it every year. We’re trying to create that hunger by letting them know that you’ve got to earn it again.”

On the other side of the ball, Richt said he’s seen flashes of the potential, but expects some of the newcomers this summer to keep the position battles at a high level.

“Defensively, we see really good signs, but we’re not a solid, cohesive unit yet because we’re not exactly sure who’s going to be our starters and who’s going to play,” he said. “We’ve got some guys coming in who we think can challenge for some playing time too.”

Michael Bennett returns to practice

Wide receiver Michael Bennett returned to practice on Tuesday much to the surprise of Georgia’s head coach.

“I’ll be honest with you, I really didn’t know he was going to do that,” Richt said. “I wasn’t mad, it just kind of caught me off guard, and there he was with his pads on. Of course he had a green jersey on, but he was running routes.”

Tuesday’s practice was the first time Bennett has been able to put his gear on since tearing his ACL in practice back in October, and Richt said he was performing at an encouraging level with the rest of the receivers.

“I mean he didn’t look a lot different from the rest of the guys,” he said. “He was running at a pretty good clip. It wasn’t like he was off to the side, running a route at three-quarters speed. It looked like he was running at full-speed and came out of his break and made some nice catches.”

Richt couldn’t help himself from smiling when talking about the return of one of the Bulldogs’ key wideouts.

“He looked great and I think it really made him feel good,” he said, “and made me feel good.”

Richt entertains idea of early signing period

The end of spring practices officially marks the beginning of the next period of recruiting for coaches around the country.

The race to persuade the nation’s top prospects is something Richt said he feels like most coaches would enjoy if it were at a more manageable pace. Most of the recruiting at this time of year is based off watching tape on prospects which can sometimes lead to a rushed offer.

“I’d say we as coaches in general would all agree, that we would love to slow down the process of these massive offers until you get to see some of these guys in person or get to watch them practice in the spring,” Richt said.

When asked if having an early signing period similar to what NCAA basketball has would help, Georgia’s head coach said it would help as far as saving time and money if a recruit knows exactly where he wants to go at this stage.

“I think an early signing period could solve some issues as far as guys committing [and] decommitting,” Richt said. “If there’s a guy that knows he wants to be at your school, he can knock it out and get it over with and save himself some of the time, and save us as a staff not having to go back every single week.”

He then quickly stated he wasn’t advocating it, but having an early signing period would take some of the pressure off of fall recruiting, and allow more time for focusing on the tasks of the regular season.

“We as an SEC group of coaches … we’re for an early signing date if there was no official visits,” Richt said. “The reason why we say that is [because] we do want to coach our teams in season. We don’t want to have these massive official visits all throughout the season, and spend as much time recruiting … during the time we’re supposed to be coaching our players and preparing for the next game.”

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