There were some new faces on the first-team defense that suited up for the Black Team during Saturday’s annual G-Day game.
Safety Tray Matthews and defensive back Reggie Wilkerson from this year’s class of early enrollees made their debut between the hedges. Matthews — who has been the talk of the spring — recorded four tackles, and Wilkerson got three of his own.
“They did good,” inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. “They’ve been doing the same thing they’ve been doing all spring. They’ve been making plays, and being able to be counted on.”
The front seven featured 6-foot-3, 270-pound outside linebacker James DeLoach, rising senior Mike Thornton at noseguard and defensive end Sterling Bailey for the first time.
DeLoach was the second-leading tackler for the Black Team with six tackles and one sack. Bailey recorded three tackles, and while Thornton only registered one tackle for a loss, he was able to affect a number of plays and force some runs outside.
Even though they might not be household names in Bulldog Nation just yet, the trio has been playing in the system for multiple seasons, and defensive end Garrison Smith said he is excited about this group’s potential.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys that are working real hard and trying to get better,” he said. “I’m feeling real good about the fall. We’ve got people stepping up, and I don’t think it’s going to be any falloff from last season. I think we’ve got a chance to be better this year than last year.”
Jonathan Rumph saves his best for G-Day
Midyear wide receiver Jonathan Rumph made a strong first impression in his debut wearing the red and black.
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound junior reeled in four catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns. One of them was a 47-yarder from quarterback Parker Welch that put the Black Team within three on the first drive of the second half.
Rumph has been up-and-down this spring according to his coaches, but fellow receiver Justin Scott-Wesley was just happy to see him make some plays.
“This was his best showing,” he said. “I’m real proud of him. It’s hard coming in midyear and transitioning into an offense, which is not an easy offense to pick up.”
Rumph was originally slated to wear the No. 18 jersey, but switched to No. 1 right before the scrimmage began. Smith was able to watch him make some plays from the sideline, and joked that he should stick with the new number.
“I’m real proud of Rumph,” Smith said. “He works really hard, and I hope he can change his jersey number to No. 1 because he looked real good in it.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was a little more critical because of some missed opportunities, but is optimistic that his performance on Saturday will give him a foundation to build on.
“He’s got his feet wet, he’s learning what to do, he’s got to learn how to play faster,” Bobo said. “He’s got to make plays when given the opportunity in which he was able to do that today. He made some plays. I’m excited for him, and hopefully that will give him some confidence.”
Head coach Mark Richt was also not as quick to shower him with praise, but did like the effort he made on his first touchdown reception. Rumph took some contact before crossing the goal line, but powered through to punch it in.
“To be fair to him, he’s got a ways to go, he’s got a lot to learn still, but he’s getting there,” Richt said. “I’d like to see him be a little more physical on some of the jump ball situations, and take advantage of the height and strength that he has. I liked how the finished that one touchdown where he got hit probably around the 3-yard line, and was big enough and physical enough to knock it in the end zone. It’s nice to have a receiver finish like that.”
Richt addresses rehabbing receivers
While the G-Day game featured its fair share of dropped passes, Georgia’s offensive coaches may not need to be too concerned with its wide receiver position.
Malcolm Mitchell, who did not play after having surgery on a torn meniscus on Friday, won’t miss any time during preseason camp.
“When you trim a cartilage, it goes pretty quick, two, three weeks," Richt said. "If you have to repair, you sew it back together or whatever and then you have to wait for that healing process. It takes longer, but this one ought to be pretty quick.”
Mitchell was the team’s second-leading receiver last season with 572 yards and four touchdowns after starting the fall at the cornerback position.
Michael Bennett is another player with a positive prognosis for the 2013 season.
After tearing his ACL during practice on Oct. 3, Bennett is expected to be ready to play this summer.
“Michael’s already running routes in controlled situations,” Richt said. “Ron [Courson, director of sports medicine,] has said that he would be with no limitations as early as June. So you’ve got June and July in camp, so I would think he’ll be really ready to go.”
Early enrollee Tramel Terry, who tore his ACL during the Shrine Bowl, may also be ready to play for the Bulldogs this season.
“Terry’s working very hard,” Richt said. “Ron has the hopes that when camp starts, there won’t be any limitations other than getting used to playing on it. I think there’s always the factor of trusting it again, so we’ll see how he does there… Tramel’s timeframe is closer to having no limitations mid-to-late July.”
As an early enrollee who has not played in Georgia’s system yet, Richt was unsure of whether he’ll play this season.
“Even though he’ll have a clean bill of health to go, will he really be in good enough condition at that point and know enough and have enough reps to really help us?” Richt said. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
However, Terry’s attitude may help him as he tries to learn the system and earn playing time in the short window he will have to practice.
“Some guys that are hurt will sort of stand off to the side and feel sorry for themselves,” Richt said. “He’s in every meeting paying close attention, he’s watching every practice what’s going on, he’s asking questions constantly, he really wants to play this year and I think there’s a pretty good chance that he will.”
Offensive line still in limbo
Georgia’s offensive linemen allowed nine sacks total during the G-Day game, but that wasn’t much of a concern for Richt.
“I thought pass protection overall was pretty good,” he said. “I know there are some sacks in there. It’s so hard to call these games, what would be a sack, what’s not a sack in reality. Would a guy scramble and make a play? So it’s hard to tell.”
The biggest concern was run blocking.
Georgia’s tailbacks, on both teams, combined for 159 yards on 32 carries.
“The run game, it was kind of hit or miss as far as how well we blocked up front,” Richt said. “I think a lot of that had to do with our D-line. I think our D-line is really doing a nice job.”
Part of the struggle for the offensive line was inconsistency with players rotating in-and-out and even switching teams, like tackles Mark Beard and John Theus did to start the second half.
“We’ve been doing a lot of substitution,” Richt said. “We’ve been trying to see who can play what positions, trying to gain some depth that way and compete.”
Some of the changing has been forced by the injury to guard Chris Burnette.
“When Burnette comes back, where does it all end up? I don’t know,” Richt said. “We worked [Kenarious] Gates inside some just in case. I know Gates can play tackle or guard, I think [Xzavier] Ward is a tackle only. Theus could play tackle or guard. I just don’t know where everybody’s going to end up.”
Ward is one guy who has benefitted from the versatility of the Georgia line and the injury to Burnette, with Gates moving inside some to open a spot for Ward at tackle.
“I think he’s still a little bit behind in his leg strength to really move people running the ball,” Richt said. “He’s just got to continue to get stronger, but pass pro, I really like what I’m seeing and that’s a big part of the game… Right now, he’s one of our better pass-protecting tackles.”
Even when Burnette returns, the Bulldogs won’t necessarily go with the same five guys in every situation.
“We just want to get the best five out there and hopefully have a little rotation as well,” Richt said.