The Georgia Bulldogs football team opened its scheduled Tuesday practice in Sanford Stadium to students, which is a considerable change in both location and attendance.
Not unlike a Georgia game day, patches of students littered the North stands and the media was allowed access to the press box. However, unlike a regular practice, the media was allowed to view practice in its entirety. Here are the observations made by the Red & Black.
· After months of speculating what it would look like to see a full first-team defense in action, Tuesday was the first chance the media has had to see a team drill. Though most positions shook out as expected, the defensive backfield was, as usual, somewhat quizzically aligned. On the defensive line, junior Sterling Bailey and senior Mike Thornton lined up as true down-linemen with junior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins also putting his hand in the dirt. In replacement of injured sophomore outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, freshman outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter earned some first-team reps. The rest of the linebacking corps shook out as expected with seniors Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera filling the inside linebacker spots. The secondary, however, was less expected. Seniors Damian Swann and Corey Moore filled their expected positions of sideline corner and safety respectively, but defensive backs Shattle Fenteng, Dominick Sanders and Aaron Davis surprised some by playing with the first team. Fenteng, a junior college transfer, lined up as the field corner, Sanders, a freshman, at the “star” position and Davis, a redshirt freshman, at the other safety spot.
· As for Floyd, the sophomore returned to wearing a green, non-contact jersey again Tuesday after not wearing one in the previous week of practice. It is unclear whether the injury was a re-aggravation of his previous injury or a new one, but whatever the case, the injury appeared to keep Floyd out of most full-team drills. When Floyd was on the field, he surprisingly took some reps at the inside linebacker position and dropped back into pass coverage in seven-on-seven drills. This was somewhat unexpected as Floyd had said earlier in the fall that he would likely not often drop into coverage in defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s system. Georgia coach Mark Richt confirmed Floyd’s reps at inside linebacker as more than an aberration, citing Floyd’s athleticism as why he could potentially bump inside.
· Though Richt said that nothing is certain on the offensive line yet, it is worth noting that some trends have begun to unfold in the unit. The starting unit for the entirety of Tuesday’s practice consisted of junior John Theus and senior Kolton Houston at left and right tackle, sophomore Brandon Kublanow and redshirt sophomore Greg Pyke at left and right guard and senior David Andrews at center. This has been the most-frequently used combination of linemen this fall and it would not be surprising to see this group of five play August 30 against Clemson. However, the second unit did include two seniors at tackle in Mark Beard and Watts Dantzler, who will likely vie for playing time.
· Sticking with the offensive line, the unit spent an entire period of practice working one-on-one pass blocking drills against the defensive linemen and outside linebackers with various players looking strong and others underwhelming. As would be expected, players like Andrews and Kublanow stood out as fierce competitors who won most of their bouts, but less heralded linemen also made their presences known. Freshman Isaiah Wynn continued to impress as he has all fall in this drill, as did redshirt freshman Josh Cardiello.
· In this same drill, Jenkins continued his dominance he exhibited all of fall camp, taking everyone he faced off against to task, including Theus. Other defenders such as Carter, redshirt freshman outside linebacker Davin Bellamy and Thornton looked particularly strong as well.
· On the note of Bellamy, one-on-ones wasn’t the only time Bellamy was able to show up, as by the Red & Black’s count, Bellamy deflected three passes coming out of the quarterback’s hands in live action drills Tuesday. Though Bellamy is suspended for the first two games of the season after being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, his camp performance has been excellent and if the ability he has showcased in practice is any indication, Bellamy can be a force on the pass rush along with Jenkins, Floyd and Carter.
· In special teams, freshman wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie looked fantastic as both a punt returner and a kick returner, showing the ability to earn huge chunks of yardage by finding small creases and creating space with his shiftiness. McKenzie received first-team reps as a kick returner and second-team as a punt returner behind sophomore wide receiver Reggie Davis. Other players seen returning kicks included freshman cornerback Rico Johnson and freshman tailback Sony Michel.
· Redshirt freshman quarterback Brice Ramsey took most of the second-team reps at quarterback Tuesday in team drills, but in quarterback-specific drills, the position seemed to be held by redshirt sophomore quarterback Faton Bauta. Neither appeared to do anything to separate from the other, as both missed easy passes by overthrowing and underthrowing open receivers.
· Redshirt freshman defensive tackle John Atkins recorded an interception Tuesday off of a tipped Ramsey pass, a play to which the entire defensive coaching staff reacted positively with some staffers going as far as to jump on Atkins’ back after the play had finished.
· Senior quarterback Hutson Mason did what Bauta and Ramsey couldn’t and showed off his accuracy, lacing passes to each and every receiver and rarely forcing passes. Mason did hiccup once on a read-option play when he fumbled the exchange, which allowed for Herrera to scoop the ball up for what would have been an easy touchdown.