ORLANDO - Isn't it supposed to be warm here? Isn't that the point of having a good season, that your team goes someplace that's not frigid? Well, the weather didn't cooperate on Thursday morning as Georgia held its bowl practice at Celebration High School in Kissimmee, Fla.
(Side Note No. 1: Yes, it's Celebration High School. And the school's nickname, of course, is the Storm. You would've thought they'd shorten the school name to Celebrate and change the nickname to Tonight, but that's fine, we move on with our lives.)
So anyway, Georgia headed to practice, and ...
(Side Note No. 2: The fact that Georgia is practicing in the city limits of Kissimmee is vexing, because it creates the same problem I always have when covering Atlanta Braves spring training: Are you in Orlando, or Kissimmee, or Lake Buena Vista? I once covered a spring training game where myself, the AP and another publication each ended up with different city datelines, even though we were all filing stories within a few feet of each other.)
Never miss a local story.
So anyway, the Bulldogs practiced, and while there was no major news, here are some tidbits:
D-line's new look
The loss of Rodney Garner and John Jenkins gives the defensive line unit a different feel. The man in charge during the early portion of Thursday's practice was Brandon Wheeling, a graduate assistant and former Georgia player.
Wheeling's official title is program coordinator on defense, although he is pursuing a master's degree (in Pedagogy), so he can be considered a graduate assistant. Wheeling was a walk-on with the team in 2008 and 2009, playing in nine games as a senior. He coached the defensive line at Barnwell High School in South Carolina in 2010, then returned to Georgia in 2011 as a student assistant.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was still working with the outside linebackers during the media viewing period of Thursday's practice, but that doesn't mean he didn't move over to the defensive linemen later.
Meanwhile, senior defensive end Abry Jones was back at work, after missing the past two months following ankle surgery. Jones was wearing a brace on his left ankle, but from what could be seen in limited practice, he looked okay.
Grantham is due to meet with the media before Friday's practice, so he can provide some updates at that point.
Mitchell is happy
Malcolm Mitchell, speaking for the first time since Richt announced Mitchell would stay at receiver, expressed his satisfaction.
"It is good to settled in at one spot, and focused on that," he said.
So how will Mitchell reflect on all that work at cornerback - spring practice, summer workouts, preseason, four games - that now appear to be a closed chapter?
“It’s something to tell, man. It’ll be a part of my history no matter where I go," he said. "For one year I was a two-way player at a university.”
Mitchell also said the time at cornerback hurt his development at receiver.
“Everything I did at the end of the season at receiver was based on what I learned last year. So I couldn’t get better at certain things because I wasn’t working on it," he said. "So right now I’m just playing off my knowledge of last season, instead of my knowledge as a sophomore.”
Lynch on Jenkins
Jenkins is missing the game because of what head coach Mark Richt said was academic issues. Jenkins had also missed the last week of practice with a concussion. Those two issues are related, according to one teammate.
Junior tight end Arthur Lynch said Jenkins was "in a tough spot," because the concussion affected his ability to finish his academic responsibilities, and everything going on (the SEC championship, rehabbing from the concussion) created a time crunch.
"I'm pretty sure his final grades were fine, in terms of going into the finals," Lynch said. "That's what regular students don't get, is that there's so many factors going into your school work. A lot of times your first priority is football, but the coaches obviously stress the fact that you have to do well in school because if you don't it'll affect your ability to play."
Blair Walsh's big honor
Five former Georgia players were named to the Pro bowl on Wednesday by the NFL, but the name that stood out the most was kicker Blair Walsh.
Not only is Walsh a rookie, but he's only one year separated from having to compete for his job at Georgia.
Walsh ranks second among NFL kickers in scoring this season, making 32-of-35 field goal attempts. Walsh also set an NFL record with nine field goals of more than 50 yards. (He hasn't missed at all from 50 yards and out.)
As a senior at Georgia, Walsh struggled immensely, only going 21-of-35 on field goals - though he made every extra point attempt, which is notable based on this year's early troubles in that area.
"I mean, he had the one bad year with us, or off-year, whatever you wanna call it," head coach Mark Richt said on Thursday. "He had set the bar so high his sophomore and junior season, you just figured a guy couldn't miss. But then he had the year he had with us. I think the NFL saw his overall body of work, and to see him start out as a rookie and play the way he did, we're thrilled. We've got a bunch of Pro Bowlers, so we're real happy for those guys."
Bowl carryover talk
Richt was asked by a TV reporter about moving on from the SEC championship loss.
"I don't think they'll forget about it. But life goes on and they've gotten back to work," Richt said. "We know there's a lot of time in between that last game and this one. ... We know we've got some serious business to take care of here. But in between the business time there's gonna be some time for fun too. So they're fine."
Richt was also asked whether there was any carryover from losing the past two bowls, and trying to end the streak. He kind of downplayed that, then turned to what could serve as a springboard for next year.
"I think just how our season starts next year, with the way our schedule's gonna be, is gonna be a lot of motivation too," Richt said.
Georgia opens at Clemson, then hosts South Carolina a week later, and hosts LSU two weeks after that.
Offensive lineman Austin Long, who had surgery on his hand on Dec. 20, was running on the side. Richt said before the Christmas break that Long still had a chance to play in the bowl. Long hasn't started this year, but he's been given a chance to play his way into a starting role for the bowl.
Running back Richard Samuel (shoulder joint sprain) was practicing in a green non-contact jersey.