ATHENS — Got a rare treat this afternoon as Georgia coach Mark Richt allowed reporters to watch the entire football practice. As far as I can remember, and I haven’t covered the team every year Richt has been here since 2001, but it’s the first time I recall him permitting that.
That used to be standard operating procedure in past days. I recall covering some Vince Dooley and Ray Goff practices in the late ’80s where you’re literally standing a few feet behind the ongoing drills. I’d be out there so long I’d bring sunflower seeds to help pass the time. Goff and some of his assistants would bum them occasionally.
That’s what it was like today. It was a beautiful, sunny day, it was a full-pads practice and the Bulldogs did not disappoint. They were absolutely getting after it on the field. The annual UGA coaches clinic was going on, so all the high school coaches, the players and us scribes all huddled around as a fast-paced, three-on-three competition was conducted in the middle of one of the practice fields. To summarize the practice succinctly, there was a whole lot of yelling and a whole lot hitting going on.
Following are some of the observations I made over the course of about 14 periods:
1. The transition to defense has worked out well for J.J. Green, and perhaps for Georgia as well.
The rising sophomore — who was switched from running back to defensive back in the middle of mat drills just last month — was playing nickelback with the No. 1 defense all day. And he wasn’t just out there taking up space. The little guy was making plays. Green looked good during drill work and during pass skeleton drills, but he really stood out when the team went to 11-on-11 work late in the practice. Three time I saw Green make plays near the line of scrimmage, two on pass plays and once on a run. He looked quick and physical and appeared to have no hesitation when it came to knowing where he was supposed to be. A real stand out.
2. Players have remarked how there is a totally different pace and attitude to their practices and that was readily apparent.
It was a fast-paced practice in which there was virtually no standing around and a lot of contact involved. Thursday was the just the second practice in full pads (fifth overall) but players say all the practices have been this way and that it’s different than in years past.
“We’ve been getting after it like that every day and it’s only going to make us better,” said Ramik Wilson, a rising senior linebacker and the SEC’s leading tackler last season. “It’s been like this since Coach Pruitt got here. As long as I’ve been here practices haven’t been that intense before. It feels like a game out there. But that’s what we need and you can tell we’re getting good work in and we’re getting better because of it.”
3. Receiver Jonathan Rumph looks like a special athlete.
And he had a really good day. It didn’t really start out that way. He dropped some easy balls during drill work and I saw receivers coach Tony Ball have to get onto him more than once about running the proper route or using the proper technique. But Rumph really stood out during the scrimmage portion of practice with several nice catches in traffic. And physically, there is no one else like him on the field. He is an imposing athlete who is every bit the 6-foot, 5 inches he is listed and likely weighs more than the 208 that’s on the roster. It the Bulldogs can make sure he’s in the right places at the right times and keep him healthy, he’s going to be a problem for opposing teams.
On a related note, Chris Conley is really good and rarely drops anything that’s anywhere close to him. Ever.
4. Noticed a few changes in the starting lineups.
On the offensive line — for today at least — sophomore Greg Pyke (6-6, 326) was working with the No. 1 offense at right guard. Sophomore Brandon Kublanow (6-3, 295) had been in that position every other time I checked this spring.
There appeared to be a bit of a shakeup on the No. 1 defensive line. Sophomore Jon Taylor (6-4, 336) was at noseguard rather than junior Chris Mayes (6-4, 321) and junior Sterling Bailey (6-3, 282) was ahead of senior Ray Drew (6-5, 276) at defensive end. In fact, it appeared that Drew, who started seven games last season, got a good bit of work with the third-team defense.
Of course, you can’t read too much into any of it. Coaches change lineups like they change socks this time of year. Could be messages being sent, could be lots of factors.
5. Defensive backfield taking shape.
I wrote yesterday that one beneficiary from the defensive coaching change appeared to be Brendan Langley. The sophomore from Marietta is currently the starter at right cornerback. He started the first four games there last season but then never started again and didn’t even play the last few games. But there are others who have been granted new life.
Just to go a little deeper, junior Devin Bowman is occupying the No. 2 spot at right cornerback behind Langley. He’d gone from playing in 13 games and starting one in 2012 to barely playing at all and not recording a defensive stat this past season. The rest of the No. 2 secondary looks like this: LCB — Shaq Wiggins; SS — Tray Matthews; FS — Tramel Terry; Nickel — Sheldon Dawson.
6. Todd Gurley’s a beast
OK, that comes as a surprise to absolutely no one. But it’s so apparent when you observe him in a practice setting. Sophomore Brendan Douglas actually gets the majority of snaps with the No. 1 offense as the Bulldogs seek to protect Gurley from unnecessary injury risks. But Gurley appears to be plenty healthy when he does come in for the occasional rep and he’s instantly recognizable as a difference-maker even when going against the No. 1 defense. He moves piles, makes cuts, squirts through gaps and bursts into the open field in a way that catches your attention.
7. Red Cross report
Senior Watts Dantzler, who’s backing up Kolton Houston at right tackle, had to be taken into the training room at the end of one of the 11-on-11 periods. It appeared that trainers were treating Dantzler for signs of a concussion but he was not listed on the post-practice injury report. …. Linebacker Paris Bostick remained sidelined with a hyper-extended right knee. WR Michael Erdman (broken foot), WR Malcolm Mitchell (left leg), TE Jay Rome (foot) and WR Justin Scott-Wesley (knee) remained out.
You may have heard that student-athletes at Northwestern University in Illinois have successfully fought for the right to be considered employees of the university in an attempt to get compensation. Well, Georgia players heard about it, too, and were asked about it after Thursday’s practice. Here are some of the responses:
- Senior linebacker Ramik Wilson of Tampa:
“I’m all for it. We saw a study today that the average American works 40 hours a week. With us, with practice and school, it said we’re doing like 39.2 hours a week. And we’re out here risking our bodies. We’re going hard and practicing in the hot sun every day. I think we should get some type of reward for it and get paid for it. We need something, because any play we can tear our ACL out there or break our necks, so we’re putting our lives on the line, and it’s for entertainment for Saturday. …
“I’m here in this building from 2-2:15 til about 8 every day. I wake up every morning and go to tutoring at 7 a.m. I have class at 9:05 and 10;10. We’re on a schedule every day and we’re always on their time. We don’t have that much free time, so I think we should get some reward for it. It’d be nice to have an extra little money to buy something nice for myself, some nice shoes, some nice clothes, some extra food and groceries for the room. That would help.”
- Senior linebacker Amarlo Herrera of College Park:
“Yeah, I heard about it. But I don’t think you can start a union in Georgia so it don’t matter. And then I’ll be out of college whenever it comes, so it doesn’t matter to me either way it goes. … I feel that it should be part of your scholarship. I feel like you should get a few extra bucks t5o be able to do somethings. We talked to the president of the NCAA one day and they feel the same way. You should be able to get something to go out, be able to go to the movies or go home.”
- Junior defensive end Jordan Jenkins:
“That’s definitely pretty big. I don’t know how many people heard about it on the team — I think a good bit of us did — but that’s big. It might change the whole theme of football. It’s definitely a big topic and I’m with them right now and I’m glad they got that across. That’s just paving the way for more things to come. … The money thing (4 players accused of theft by deception), stuff like that wouldn’t happen. That wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I haven’t had a chance to buy anything. I’ve got the same pair of jeans I’ve had since my senior year of high school. I’ve got like two pairs. I’m in support of that. I’m not saying outrageously give us money. But the weekend checks and things like that go fast. Gas going back and forth to practice every day of the week, it’s just not enough. We’ve got guys struggling to pay their means.”
- Senior wide receiver Chris Conley (who is the SEC representative on the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee):
“We’ll be watching as the landscape of college sports changes and as these decisions are made. My opinions are my own and I say there are issues. Do I think this is the way we’re going to fix those issues? I don’t know. But I think we’re taking a step forward just by the fact this is getting out there and we’re noticing these issues and there’s other outlets for student-athletes to reach out and voice these opinions. Quite frankly, not all student-athletes know how to go about that.”