Last weekend the UGA football team underwent a team-building exercise with members of the military's special forces.

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ATHENS, Ga. -- Offseason news is usually bad news in college football. The University of Georgia has certainly had its share of disappointing headlines this spring with news of dismissals, transfers and arrests. While the Bulldogs are not alone in the ill news department, issues at other schools are of little consolation to Georgia faithful.

What follows is not bad news.

On Thursday, offensive lineman Kolton Houston and inside linebacker Ryne Rankin met with reporters to discuss the team's participation in "The Program."

"The Program" is a team-building exercise run by current and former members of several different military special forces units. Player participation was mandatory and the five Marine and Army instructors worked with the team from 7:00 p.m. until 11:45 p.m. on Saturday night. Five and a half hours later, on Sunday morning, the team had to report to Gabrielsen Natatorium for another round, this time in the pool. The exercises were tough, but according to Houston and Rankin, the results appear to be worth it.

Leaders emerge

The team-building exercises highlighted a positive development in leadership for Georgia. With an entirely new defensive coaching staff, the graduation of vocal leader Garrison Smith, the turmoil in the secondary and increased expectations for 2014, the Georgia defense needed someone to step up and take charge. Apparently Ramik Wilson, Amarlo Herrera and Corey Moore answered the call.

The instructors at The Program gave group leaders broad tasks and required those leaders to relay instructions to their charges. When the objectives were not met (due in part to the nebulous nature of the instructions), the groups had to repeat the drills, gradually zeroing in on the true nature of the task that the instructors wanted completed.

"Definitely for the defensive side it showed that we actually do have some good defensive leaders," Houston said. "Corey and Amarlo, they really stepped up -- and so did Ramik. That was good to see."

Houston knows the value of strong leadership, especially when you are being criticized.

"I would say the main three leaders on our offense would probably be David Andrews, Chris Conley and Hutson Mason," Houston said. "I would say Hutson just sitting around behind Aaron for that long definitely gives him a leadership role and he is our quarterback. And David and Chris have been here, have been through the fire the most and that is what the guys look up to."

Improved Communication

Regarding the training with the special forces team Houston said, "The communication and the leadership role was definitely the most challenging. Because you had to sit back and listen to one person communicate things and if you didn't do it the exact way then you would get yelled at and have to start all over from the very beginning."

That sounds almost exactly like how defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt taught practice this spring. There was constant repetition and mistakes were grounds for starting over. Pruitt would have approved.

"It helped everybody bond," Rankin said. "It helped Amarlo, Ramik, Leonard Floyd. J.J. Green was in there talking. It helped everybody just get after each other make them competitive."

The Program also forced group leaders to be more vocal, an attribute that was missing on the defense last year.

"Oh that changed," Rankin said. "Last year everybody didn't know what to do, didn't know what to say. This year it's more vocal and everybody is understanding it. Pruitt just simplified everything. It's so much simpler. It's night and day. We knew the plays but there was just so much going on. The plays this year are so much simpler…. I like it a lot better."

"Two years ago the offense was the biggest question and this spring the defense was the biggest question," Houston said. "They were always getting heat. Especially when you have new coaches it is kind of hard for the guys out there so when this came around those leaders solidified themselves.

Walk-on safety Lucas Redd also stood out.

"Lucas actually got an award," Houston said. "They presented two leadership awards and Chris Conley and Lucas got them."

Houston agreed with the award distribution.

"I would say the main three leaders on our offense would probably be David Andrews, Chris Conley and Hutson Mason," Houston said. "I would say Hutson just sitting around behind Aaron for that long definitely gives him a leadership role and he is our quarterback. And David and Chris have been here, have been through the fire the most and that is what the guys look up to."

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