ATHENS -- The veterans, at least the ones left, on the Georgia football team watched and took note of the hype surrounding the so-called “Dream Team” recruiting class. When the highly touted newcomers arrived on campus this summer, those seniors, juniors and sophomores were as interested as anybody to see if the true freshmen were the real deal.
“I do see talented guys. But I want to see it on the field,” junior linebacker Christian Robinson said last week. “You can be Mr. Everything in high school, have all the great plays against guys that aren’t that talented. If you can’t come in and make those plays against guys that are the best, you’re not gonna make it at all.”
It’s now time for Robinson and others to see it on the field. At least the practice field. The Bulldogs open fall practice Thursday afternoon, in what should be four intense weeks leading up to the much-anticipated opener against Boise State.
The newcomers are the story hanging over fall practice; not just freshmen like Isaiah Crowell and Ray Drew, but junior college transfer John Jenkins and Southern Cal-transfer Jarvis Jones.
With that in mind, here are five things to watch during the next few weeks:
1. The new backfield
Crowell may feel like he has the weight of the world, or at least the program, on his shoulders. A few months removed from Carver-Columbus, the tailback has already been mentioned as a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate by ESPN.com.
The hang-up is that Crowell may not even start. When Caleb King was ruled ineligible last month, the team reacted by shifting Richard Samuel back to tailback. Since then, head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo have had glowing things to say about Samuel.
The expectation is Crowell and Samuel will share time, barring a big showing from redshirt freshman Ken Malcome.
It’s still possible it could be an all-Columbus backfield. Senior Bruce Figgins (Shaw) has moved to fullback, and he will compete with sophomore Zander Ogletree for playing time.
2. Jones’ status
And yet another Columbus connection. The Carver product spent a year at USC before transferring to Georgia and sitting out last year. After impressing as a scout-teamer, he was assigned a starting outside linebacker spot and is expected to be a playmaker.
But then came the revelations of his AAU basketball coach’s payments in Jones’ name. Georgia was set to turn in its report to the SEC after its own investigation and was optimistic it would get word either way on Jones in time enough not to be caught off guard -- as was the case last year with A.J. Green.
It’s hazardous to make any guesses on what, if any, penalties could happen to Jones -- as, once again, Georgia learned last year with Green. But the Bulldogs know that since they open against Boise State and South Carolina, a two-game suspension to Jones would be a hard hit.
3. The strength and conditioning changes
Since Joe Tereshinski was put in charge of the offseason program, players have reported that the workouts have been tougher. The goal isn’t just to be stronger on the line but to be in better shape once the fourth quarter rolls around.
Whether it has a tangible benefit won’t really be fairly judged until real games are played. But the fall practices and scrimmages can offer some clues.
“Everybody understands that we couldn’t finish the fourth quarter last year,” receiver Tavarres King said. “As a matter of fact, I don’t think we won one. That’s what we’re implementing now is finishing. We’re going back to finishing the drill.”
4. Offensive position battles
Besides tailback and fullback, the Bulldogs have to figure out who will start opposite King at receiver. Freshman Malcolm Mitchell drew raves from teammates during summer workouts, and the coaches hope juniors Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten can begin to reach their potential.
The first-team offensive line is basically set. But the depth is so thin that every freshman will get a hard look. The team also can ill afford another injury, so it’s not great news that sophomore Austin Long will miss the first two weeks of practice with mononucleosis.
5. Defensive position battles
There should be an intense competition at one outside linebacker spot between Drew and junior Cornelius Washington. But both will play, and both could start if Jones has to miss any time.
The nose tackle spot is virtually assured to belong to Jenkins, but sophomore Kwame Geathers had a great spring. That could impact Northside product Abry Jones, slated to start at end, unless the team becomes enamored with using both nose tackles.
In the secondary, the competition is to see who starts at safety with Bacarri Rambo. And while there are plenty of veteran defensive backs, there are also plenty of recruits who could play right away: Damian Swann, Chris Sanders and Nick Marshall.