ATHENS - For the Georgia defense, spring has been about renewal and fresh starts. For the offense, however, it's looked a lot like last year:
Key players in the training room. Low roster numbers at the skill positions.
"It does (feel like last year) a little bit," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "But you've got what you've got."
Bobo is hoping to get most if not all of his injured players back in time for August, if not sooner. In the meantime, however, he's without his best receiver (Malcolm Mitchell) and another key receiver (Justin Scott-Wesley), his second-best tailback is limited (Keith Marshall). At tight end, the Bulldogs were down to just one scholarship player, and that was converted fullback Quayvon Hicks. Starter Jay Rome is out this spring after foot surgery, and backup Jordan Davis is out this week with a knee sprain.
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Given all that, it's not surprising that the offense has been less than crisp.
"We've had our ups and downs, but way too many downs, this spring, in my opinion, " Bobo said after Thursday's practice. "We've gotta get better. We're not executing at a standard high enough to win, or beat anybody right now."
In fact, Bobo went so far as to say incoming freshmen have a great chance to play this fall.
"We're gonna have to have freshmen play for us this year. Play meaningful minutes. Some of them possibly start," Bobo said. "Obviously at the tight end position, at the receiver position, at the running back position, and at the O-line. There's not enough competition at those spots. But you go through that during spring. But we seem at a little bit lower numbers because of the injuries to the guys."
Rome and Mitchell are expected back this summer. Marshall and Scott-Wesley, who tore their ACLs in the same game last October, are also on track to be ready by preseason practice, though at what speed is uncertain. Marshall still isn't doing much in practice, but is ahead of schedule, according to Bobo, who said he was "excited to get him back."
As for star tailback Todd Gurley, Bobo said before spring practice that he wanted Gurley to play as much as possible in order to learn to fight through injury. After nine practices, Bobo is pleased.
"Todd has done a good job of pushing through and practicing like a great player should," Bobo said. "When he practices hard, that does a lot for our football team. That shows leadership. We've been trying to encourage it, and he's been doing a good job of it. ...
"If he wants to be one of the best players in the country, we want to be one of the best teams in the country, we need him to be at his best. And you can't do that without practicing. So I'm proud of him. He's gotta keep doing it for six more practices."
Michael Bennett and Chris Conley, the pair of rising seniors, are the set first-teamers at receiver. After them, rising sophomore Reggie Davis has had the best spring, according to Bobo.
"He's improved this camp," Bobo said. "He's still not as consistent as coach Ball would want - that's a word coach Ball uses a lot, consistent."
Walk-on Kenneth Towns was the next player cited by Bobo. Towns got some snaps near the end of last season.
Then there's Jonathon Rumph, the much-discussed rising senior. Last week quarterback Hutson Mason called Rumph the "MVP of the receivers" so far in spring. Bobo was a little more restrained in his praise.
"He made some catches early," Bobo said. "We've gotta get Rumph ready to play. Rumph's gotta be a contributor this year. I think the improvement from last spring over to this spring is night and day. Where last spring he might be in position to make the play and he didn't make it. Well this spring he's making the play. Now he's still gotta get better at route-running, and better at playing faster. But when the ball's been near him, whether he's run the right route or not, he's made the play. That's been the big improvement."