Post G-Day mailbag

semerson@macon.comApril 10, 2013 

One of my favorite things to do is answer reader questions. One of my least favorite things to do is format those reader questions for our system. But that's neither here nor there. Here is the post-G-Day mailbag - but not the post-spring practice mailbag. We can do that next week.

This is all a gut feeling: I know that it is just spring and all is right with the world, but I am getting a sense that the Dawgs have more than a few younger players who maybe didn't come in with all the stars and headlines but are going to be very solid during their time in Athens. It seems like we have a bunch of 3-star type guys who are not only hungry but pretty talented, too; maybe slipped in under the radar just a little. It is pretty clear that the depth is better than it has been in years, but it also feels like quality depth with kids who can make plays. It also seems like the players development has taken a noticeable tick upward.

Are my senses accurate or is there just too much pollen blowing up my nose?
- Frank, McDonough

Yes, your sense may be accurate, but that doesn’t mean too much pollen isn’t being forced through various orifices in your body. (It’s pretty ridiculous here in Athens. I just moved to my deck to write, and within literally 30 seconds my screen was yellow.)

We’ll have to see for sure when the season starts. But if you believe what you’ve seen and heard this spring, it should be another reminder that while the recruiting stars are a good guide, they’re not worth living and dying about. Tray Matthews was a solid four-star, but people behind the scenes are already predicting stardom for him. Reggie Carter was an unheralded recruit and Reggie Wilkerson was (and still is) ranked as the third-best cornerback in Georgia’s class. But they’ve also been impressive in camp. Those two Reggie’s won’t start this year (although don’t rule out Carter eventually), but as you said, they mean depth.

All this isn’t to say Georgia would turn down the five-stars they struck out on in February. The coaches pursued those guys, and hard, for a reason. But you make up for that by signing a big class (which Georgia did) and enrolling as many of those early (which Georgia did) and increasing your chances of making the recruiting rankings look silly.

But I should issue the important caveat that it’s still just spring, and all these young hot-shots looked good going against their own team. I’m not sure any team ever comes out of spring practice feeling they’re not much better than when they started. Barring injuries, it’s always a time of unbridled optimism.

1) As spring practice season has been moving along, who are the guys the coaches keep talking about more often? Is there a freshman who coaches keep mentioning day in and day out?

2) How do the special teams look? Any leaders for punt returner?

3) How are things looking on the O-Line?

- Grant J, Tallahassee, FL

1) The easy answer is Matthews. I hate to keep repeating myself, but the safety is the freshman who has been the dominant topic this spring, with Carter the name generating a lot of discussion later in camp as well. On the flip side, a guy who had perhaps the best G-Day game – receiver Jonathan Rumph, a junior college transfer – actually wasn’t having a good spring prior to that.

2) They really didn’t do much with special teams this spring, at least in the scrimmages. Rhett McGowan was fielding the punts on G-Day – they were all fair-catches – and right now I’d pencil him in as the favorite. But Malcolm Mitchell and perhaps Sheldon Dawson will get looks in the preseason, when the coaches really bear down and work on special teams.

3) Not too great, if you go by what Will Friend was saying after Tuesday’s practice. That said, I have a hard time believing John Theus won’t be starting at one of the tackle spots, and my gut still tells me he begins to emerge as a force this year. . I think there will be enough depth, ultimately. The emergence of Xzavier Ward is a positive sign in that direction. I still think the main issue here is whether there’s enough genuine high-level SEC talent. Is David Andrews a high-level SEC center? Are Chris Burnette, Dallas Lee and Kenarious Gates high-level SEC linemen? To me, those are all unresolved questions.

Could one of the reasons for inconsistent OL play be contributed by the fact that there is so much shuffling / experimenting / available depth that there is no consistent 1st team to work together and gel? Will they ever really let them settle on a consistent pecking order?
- Lee Munger

Will Friend told me Tuesday that he hopes to have a pretty set group “mid-camp,” as in around the time they need to start preparing in earnest for Clemson. Based on that, and the way he’s handled things the last two years, I think he does put a premium on consistency and cohesion. But first you have to make sure you have the best guys out there, and spring is a good time to do that.

Now, the offensive line struggled early in each of the past two seasons, then got better as the season went on? Was that because of consistency? Perhaps. They came out of spring practice last year with a basic five or six guys, but Kolton Houston was one of those guys, and he turned out to still not be eligible. Then Theus arrived and grabbed the right tackle spot. There was also a lot of competition in camp leading up to the opener. But by the South Carolina game, which was the sixth of the year, the line had had the same starting five all year. Cohesion wasn’t the issue there. It was just being dominated.

Can you clarify some eligibility issues regarding work/benefits? I'm confused what the NCAA rules precisely prohibit? For example, a player cannot sell his jersey(ahem), profit from his likeness, hire an agent, or accept certain types of benefits to maintain eligibility, but he can sign a professional baseball contract and then come back and play college sports later. I know Ricky Williams paid for himself in college after playing pro baseball, but are players allowed on scholarship after they play pro baseball? What are the ways a player can make money while they are in school? Can they have a summer or part time job? If yes, what is the difference between taking money from an agent with an agreement that they will represent you if and when you go pro in the future and earning money from a regular job? Thanks.
- Gordon, Austin TX

Wow, that’s a lot of questions about amateurism. But I’m a paid professional, so I’ll do my best.

Basically, if you are an amateur in a sport you can compete in that sport, even if you’re a professional in another sport. So a guy like Chris Weinke (going in the way-back machine) can get paid all he wants to pursue baseball, meaning he can’t play college baseball anymore, but he can still go back and play college football as long as he hasn’t been paid for that. In fact, Auburn currently has a walk-on receiver, Melvin Ray, whose tuition is being paid by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but if Auburn chooses to put him on scholarship, they can.

As for outside income, there are various small ways an athlete can earn spending money – odd jobs, for instance – but the basic NCAA rule is that he/she cannot profit from their status as an athlete. That’s kind of a wide net and open to interpretation, which creates a lot of issue. A clear-cut case would be a booster giving a player a couple hundred dollars for a no-show job. A less clear-cut case would be a player getting $50 to help out at a car wash or something.

Student-athletes are allowed to have part-time jobs, but most don’t because of the time constraints. That’s why the NCAA has pushed for the $2,000 stipend, which hasn’t gone into effect because of opposition from smaller schools that can’t afford it for all their athletes. But as it relates to agents, that kind of thing is supposed to be well-regulated, and most athletics departments will seek to have some kind of approval over all off-campus work for athletes, so as to avoid such conflicts.

It’s all a muddle. Frankly I think athletes should be allowed to have agents – an idea SEC commissioner Mike Slive has endorsed as well. Baseball players are allowed to have unpaid “advisers” who help them in the lead-up to the draft, and then help them decide whether or not to sign. A guy like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope should be able to have someone advising him on whether it would be smarter to go this year or return for another year and maximize his value.

A lot of times, it is very easy to forget the Bulldog football players are just really 18-22 year olds. Fans, including myself, just see the win/loss record all the while demanding the very best from these student-athletes week in and week out. So, I want to change gears a little for my question.

In what ways do the Georgia football program, the coaches, and the players have fun? I saw the Harlem Shake video the team did and thought it was hilarious. But what other little ways/traditions/customs does the UGA team use to just unwind and relax from all the expectations and demands placed upon them?
- Ray Bailey, Ft. Sill, OK

In a lot of ways they’re just like regular college students – although with less free time. Athletes have to deal with practice in addition to classes, and there are various other duties: Offseason workouts, talking to the media, study hall, public functions. It’s a sacrifice they make in order to have a scholarship, and to help the school make millions, without getting paid more than a scholarship for it. But anyway …

There are various team-building activities, which mainly arise out of preseason camp. The coaches have a summer retreat. But overall what I’ve found is that when Georgia coaches and players are in their off time – which there isn’t too much of – they basically live like the rest of us, hanging with friends and family, play video games, go hunting, whatever. Some football players hang with teammates, some branch out with fellow athletes, and a few blend in a bit more with the overall student body.

Any idea what our track record is with players like Stanley Williams who commit "early" (junior year or before)?
- Ben Sheppard

This is in reference to Williams, a tailback who committed the summer of 2011 – which was actually prior to his sophomore year. It’s probably a miracle his commitment lasted that long.

(Side note: Williams committed on Dawg Night of that summer, along with John Theus, Brice Ramsey, Tramel Terry and Derrick Henry. So of those five, three-decomitted later, although Terry later re-committed and signed.)

Georgia’s history with the very early commitments is on par with other programs. I don’t really get up in arms about sophomores or even freshman committing, because it’s not like it’s bonding and it’s not like the recruits won’t stop hearing from other schools. But no one should be surprised when for various reasons – such as the player not growing – the school sours on the player, or the player gets a bunch more offers than he expected and he de-commits.

Who played safety when JHC moved to the nickel spot? Will this continue when summer recruits come in?
- Sean Campbell

Right now it’s Corey Moore and Connor Norman competing to be that strong safety when Harvey-Clemons is at the nickel – which as I’ve said, I expect to be the predominant look for Georgia, at least against Clemson. Recruit Shaquille Fluker should be a factor once he arrives this summer, and while they’re cornerbacks, I think Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley could get a look at some spot on the field in the nickel and dime sets.

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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