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8/26 Fall Camp: Noticably, Bellamy “Might Be the Best”

DAVIN BELLAMY

ATHENS, Ga.—Jeremy Pruitt declaring one of his defenders might be the best player amongst his position group is one thing, the Georgia defensive coordinator claiming the player might be the best of all the outside linebackers is completely another.

This week, Pruitt was asked about the progress of Davin Bellamy, a sophomore from Chamblee, Ga. Bellamy was redshirted as a true freshman in 2013, saw limited action last season, then suffered a shoulder injury, but has looked impressive in fall camp.

Still, as part of an outside linebacking corps which includes senior Jordan Jenkins, junior Leonard Floyd, and sophomore Lorenzo Carter—all three of whom, remarkably, earned preseason all-conference recognition on the recently-released preseason Coaches All-SEC teams—surely Bellamy must be a notch below the tremendous trio.

“No, I wouldn’t say he’s a notch below any of them,” Pruitt said. “He might be the best one.”

Following today’s shortened, 60-minute workout by the Bulldogs at the Woodruff Practice Fields, Bellamy was asked about the high praise he received

“I do appreciate the compliment because I have been working really hard,” Bellamy said. “I’m glad Coach Pruitt has noticed.”

And, Pruitt has noticed indeed.

“[Davin] works really hard out there; he’s physical,” Pruitt said. “He likes the game, and he can play every down.” Pruitt added one key element Bellamy can improve upon is being more consistent.

Bellamy missed the first two games of last season after being arrested for DUI. Playing in 10 consecutive games as a reserve, he recorded 17 tackles, including two for loss, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Bellamy was held out of the season-end Belk Bowl versus Louisville and then underwent shoulder surgery, forcing him to miss spring practice.

Bellamy entered fall camp listed as the No. 2 “Jack” outside linebacker behind Jenkins. Floyd and Carter were listed as co-number ones at the other outside linebacking spot, “Sam.” The two positions give Georgia arguably the country’s best set of outside linebackers—a close-knit group where each member has something special to offer.

“Outside [the outside linebacking group] people might not be aware of what we all can do; however, we all know what each other can do,” Bellamy stressed. “We all bring something different to the table. Some [of us] are more explosive, while others are more athletic, and can jump higher.”

Although Pruitt has noticed what Bellamy brings to the table, and his compliment was certainly appreciated, ultimately, “it wasn’t a big deal,” Bellamy said with all due respect for the defensive coordinator. “Any given day, someone else [besides myself] can be the best outside linebacker; someone else can go off.”

But, for now, that “someone else,” who is going off, and might be the best of the group is the surprising Bellamy, and he’s getting noticed.

8/22 Fall Camp: Is Alternating Quarterbacks An Alternative?

Could the race for the starting quarterback job be settled with an alternating QB system?

ATHENS, Ga.—If you believe what you read on the Internet, certain so-called “people in the know” have already figured out Georgia’s “quarterback thing,” as head coach Mark Richt has described it. By observing fall camp, it has been said that it’s “clear,” as one beat writer determined, who will be the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback.

As for this beat writer, while observing juniors Greyson Lambert and Faton Bauta, sophomore Brice Ramsey, and freshmen Sam Vaughn and Nick Robinson, taking snaps under center during the summer, although I can definitely distinguish two, maybe three of the five quarterbacks who will not be Georgia’s starter, as far as who will be, I have absolutely no idea.

Richt appears maybe as uncertain as I am, which indicates to me that no one is “clear” on who’ll be the Bulldogs’ starting signal caller—at least, not at this very moment.

“Walking away from practice, I feel like I know less about what to do than going in,” the head coach said following today’s scrimmage regarding the quarterback competition. “Who knows how it’s going to end?”

For the third time in less than two weeks, Richt mentioned today there’s “a chance” more than one quarterback will be taking reps to start the season, although he would rather not have any sort of dual-system in place.

The only other time Richt has been in a similar situation at Georgia was entering his first season in 2001, when David Greene and Cory Phillips were competing for the starting quarterback position. In the season opener against Arkansas State, both quarterbacks played significantly, each passing for over 100 yards, but Greene was exceptional, solidifying his place as the starter. Phillips played sparingly the rest of the season, and hardly the following year.

For the next three seasons from 2002 to 2004, Richt utilized both Greene and dual-threat D.J. Shockley by making an effort to play the No. 2 quarterback for at least one, sometimes as many as four series per game. However, in time, Richt has questioned this type of strategy in alternating quarterbacks.

“Does [alternating quarterbacks] ruin the rhythm of the starter; does it ruin the rhythm of the game?” Richt asked aloud when discussing two quarterbacks taking reps. “I have found in this league, it’s a different world—one series can be the difference in winning or losing a game, and one game can be the difference between winning and losing the Eastern Division title. So, I just haven’t [rotated quarterbacks] as much as when I first got here.”

Whoever wins Georgia’s starting job, there’s a good chance he likely will have done so via an on-field competition during game one against Louisiana-Monroe, perhaps spilling over into the second game at Vanderbilt, but probably no further. And, you can also assume, once the starting signal caller is established, he won’t be splitting time, or alternating, with anyone else.

8/18 Fall Camp: Coach “Schotty” and Crew Look to Maintain “Tight End U.”

During practice, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer observes freshman tight end No. 88 Jackson Harris run a passing route.

ATHENS, Ga.—Yesterday, Georgia’s offense was dealt a blow with the loss of senior receiver Justin Scott-Wesley with an apparent right leg injury. At today’s practice—one conducted half outside and half inside because of the weather—although sophomore receiver Isaiah McKenzie was fortunately no longer wearing a green no-contact jersey as before, there was no sign of Scott-Wesley.

Considering the Bulldogs’ slowly depleting receiving corps, if you’re a Georgia enthusiast, you’ll probably find some solace in what first-year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer stated yesterday: “Luckily for us, we have tight ends we can use.” And, do they ever.

The Bulldogs’ tight end unit consisting of Jay Rome, Jeb Blazevich, Jordan Davis, and Jackson Harris were considered by some preseason prognosticators during the summer as one of the best group of tight ends in the entire nation. What’s more, Schottenheimer believes the group is having arguably the best camp of any position, primarily based on their consistent on-field performance.

“They show up every day, and it’s usually a different guy every day [performing the best in the group],” Schottenheimer added.

The veteran of the group is Rome, a fifth-year senior, who battled injuries for much of the previous two seasons but still managed to make 19 combined catches. For 2015, he finally seems healthy and has appeared outstanding since the start of spring.

“We’ve been working really hard, and Coach Schotty (Schottenheimer) has thrown some things at us—some new stuff—we haven’t done as much [as before],” Rome said today when asked about the praise the tight ends have received. “And, I think we’ve responded really well, encouraging one another within the [unit], and working to be the best we can be.”

Entering fall camp, Rome was listed second on the depth chart behind Blazevich, a sophomore who last season made 18 receptions as merely a true freshman. Davis, a sophomore, had one of the best springs of anyone on the Georgia offense, including leading both teams in receiving for the G-Day spring game. Still, listed above Davis at third-string is Harris, a true freshman who enrolled early in the spring.

Despite being thrust into not only what has perhaps been the most impressive unit, but likely the deepest of any of Georgia’s positions, Harris claims he is grateful for the competition.

“We got a great group [of tight ends],” Harris said last week in front of the media. “Not only are they great players, but great people. … I’ve learned so much from all of them. We keep pushing one another.”

Schottenheimer also indicated he wanted to keep the opposition off balance with multiple personnel groupings, and a dependable way of accomplishing as much was to fully utilize the tight end position. “We like tight ends here, so we like to use them in different ways,” he declared.

Indeed, the Bulldogs do “like tight ends.” What has been acknowledged as “Tight End U.,” Georgia currently has three players in the NFL at the position—Ben Watson, Orson Charles, and Arthur Lynch—whereas the likes of former-Bulldog tight ends Jermaine Wiggins, Randy McMichael, Clarence Kay, Leonard Pope, and Troy Sadowski all had lengthy careers in the league.

Georgia’s tight end tradition is one appreciated by the veteran of the current group, and a tradition in which the Bulldogs’ newly-hired offensive coordinator wants to maintain.

“Georgia’s has a tradition of great tight ends throughout the years,” Rome said, “and I think [Coach Schottenheimer] is just trying to come in and continue that [trend].”

8/17 Fall Camp: Quarterback Race Aside, Who Will the Starter Throw To?

An injured JUSTIN SCOTT-WESLEY walks off the field with a trainer during Monday's practice.

ATHENS, Ga.—Last week, Georgia head coach Mark Richt indicated the Bulldogs had five wide receivers he was rather confident were “game ready.” During today’s practice, that number likely dropped to four in an instant.

Running an out pattern during a passing drill, senior wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley suddenly went down with what appeared to be a right leg or knee injury. In obvious pain and frustration, Scott-Wesley was first helped off the field by teammates, then a trainer, only to finally walk off on his own.

Scott-Wesley is no stranger to missing time with the Bulldogs. As a sophomore in 2013, he led Georgia in receiving yards entering the fifth game of the season until tearing his ACL at Tennessee. In the 21 games since, Scott-Wesley has been limited to five catches while enduring injuries and serving a suspension last season. This year, he was anticipated to be one of the Bulldogs’ biggest weapons at wide out.

Still, there was no word on the severity of the injury by the close of practice. The assistant coaches available for post-practice interviews all deferred to their head coach when asked about Scott-Wesley’s injury. Richt won’t be available to the media until Thursday.

The primary question facing the Bulldogs since the start of spring practice has been, who is their leading candidate to start at quarterback? Now, perhaps a bigger concern should be, what receivers remain for that starter to actually throw to?

“I think Malcolm [Mitchell] has had a really good camp; Reggie Davis certainly [as well],” said offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who met with the media for the first time during fall camp. “Certainly, Isaiah McKenzie had a great spring.”

Mitchell, a fifth-year senior, enters the 2015 campaign with 116 catches, 1,485 receiving yards, and 11 receiving touchdowns for his career, ranking 15th, 17th, and 19th, respectively, in Georgia football history. McKenzie, who entered fall camp listed as a starting receiver opposite Mitchell after making six receptions in 2014 as a true freshman, was known more for his returning of kickoffs and punts than as a receiver a year ago. Davis, a speedy junior, made only 17 receptions his freshman and sophomore seasons combined, but averaged nearly 20 yards per catch.

“Is there a number count?” Schottenheimer asked out loud regarding the number of “game ready” receivers Georgia currently has on its roster. “No. But, we do know there’s some young guys we’re counting on that need to come in, pick up what we’re doing, and make plays.”

The leading “young guy” at receiver the Bulldogs are counting on in 2015 is Terry Godwin, a five-star prospect out of Callaway HS in Hogansville, Ga. Described as a “playmaker” by Schottenheimer, Godwin has already been required during fall camp to play several roles in Georgia’s offense; nonetheless, he has picked up on Schottenheimer’s system rather quickly.

Other receivers the Bulldogs signed in February are Jayson Stanley (Fairburn, Ga.), Shaquery Wilson (Coral Gables, Fla.), and Michael Chigbu (New Orleans, La.). If Scott-Wesley is sidelined, Chigbu could very well be Georgia’s fifth receiver in the pecking order behind Mitchell, McKenzie, Davis, and Godwin. Described by Schottenheimer as having the “body type you like,” the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Chigbu is strong and physical and, although seemingly not a deep threat, could develop into the ultimate possession receiver. When asked last week, however, Chigbu was certainly willing to do everything as a Bulldog receiver: run short routes, go long, and anything else in between.

“I’m just a wide receiver—I have to do both,” Chigbu said regarding if he was more of a possession receiver, or a deep threat. “You can’t just be one type of guy—you got to do everything.”

Considering Scott-Wesley being out indefinitely, plus Georgia losing to graduation three of its four leading receivers from last season, it would appear Chigbu, and most of the rest of his receiving mates, at least for now, have little choice but to do both—to do everything.

8/14 Fall Camp: Disparity Between O-Line Units, ‘Big TEAM, little me’ Highlight First Scrimmage

According to Coach Richt, although getting better, the disparity between Georgia's No. 1 and No. 2 offensive line units during Friday's scrimmage was glaring.

ATHENS, Ga.— The Georgia football team conducted its first scrimmage of fall camp this afternoon at Sanford Stadium. According to head coach Mark Richt, the No. 1 and No. 2 units ran approximately 50 to 60 plays, while the third team managed to get in at least 32 plays. Apparently, the scrimmage’s uncommonly high number of plays was due to the team’s depth and relatively healthy roster.

Notably, following the first scrimmage of fall camp for three of the previous six years (2009, 2010, and 2012), Richt mentioned to the media there was some obvious disparity between the team’s No. 1 and No. 2 units during the initial scrimmage. The coach was asked if any disparity existed in today’s scrimmage, whereupon Richt didn’t mention the team, generally speaking, but a particular position group instead.

“The biggest disparity, or the level of readiness, is between the No. 1 offensive line and No. 2 offensive line—that’s the most glaring thing,” Richt said. “Our No. 2 [offensive line] is not ready to play winning football right now.”

Entering fall camp, Georgia’s No. 2 offensive line was listed as sophomore Aulden Bynum and redshirt freshman Kendall Baker at the tackles, redshirt freshman Lamont Gaillard and sophomore Thomas Swilley at the guards, and senior Hunter Long at center.

Richt was asked to go into detail regarding his comment: Was there disparity simply because the No. 2 offensive line was having difficulty playing as a unit, or can seemingly none of the second-stringers provide quality depth up front?

“I don’t know if there’s anybody on that unit ready to play winning football yet,” Richt replied with no hesitation. But, he did add the unit was getting better and, to their credit, they often faced during the scrimmage sophomore linebacker Lorenzo Carter—a formidable task for most any offensive line.

“The defense is good,” declared senior Kolton Houston, defending his fellow offensive linemen. “It’s hard for those young guys (the No. 2 offensive line) because [they] get switched around [between positions] a lot more than we do. They’ll get the hang of it.”

Houston and senior John Theus are Georgia’s starting tackles. Sophomore Isaiah Wynn and junior Greg Pyke are currently the No. 1 guards, and junior Brandon Kublanow is the starting center.

During his press conference, Richt also reiterated one of his “big things” was the concept of “team”—not individual players—whereupon he was asked why the change of attitude for this particular fall camp?

“Probably because of this quarterback thing (three-way competition to become starter)—I’m not saying much about that,” Richt answered.

It’s no secret one of the top storylines this preseason is the quarterback battle between junior Faton Bauta, junior Greyson Lambert, and redshirt sophomore Brice Ramsey. What has been a secret is if there’s any pecking order regarding where each of the three stand. Richt said all three quarterbacks had bright moments during the scrimmage.

“I’m not saying much about [individual players regardless of position] right now as far as who is doing this, and that,” Richt added, “because it really doesn’t matter until we start playing the games.”

Georgia starts playing only three weeks from tomorrow, when the Bulldogs host Louisiana-Monroe on September 5. Until then, where the quarterbacks stand is likely anyone’s guess. And, any uncertainty regarding the Bulldogs’ signal callers is just fine with one who’ll be blocking for them, as long as he’s blocking for Georgia’s Heisman Trophy-contending tailback, as well.

“No, not really,” Houston replied when asked if it was frustrating not knowing the positioning of the quarterbacks. “’27 (Nick Chubb’s jersey number) left,’ and ‘27 right,’ sounds pretty good to me.”

8/12 Fall Camp: UGA Defensive Frosh Make Good First Impression

Georgia freshman defensive lineman TRENTON THOMPSON: “I try to go hard every play, and I don’t take any plays off,."

ATHENS, Ga.—Following the 10th practice of fall camp this afternoon, the media met with head coach Mark Richt, as well as a handful of true freshmen defensive players, who were being interviewed for the first time since the start of preseason practice.

Notably, of the Bulldogs’ 29 signees in February—the third-most by the program in over 30 years beginning in 1985—a staggering 19 were defensive players, including all of Rivals’ top seven defensive prospects in 2015 from the state of Georgia.

One of those prospects, defensive tackle Trenton Thompson of Westover High School in Albany, finished the recruiting cycle as the country’s No. 1 overall player according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. As one would expect, the headliner of Georgia’s large, defensive-heavy class drew a lot of attention.

“I try to go hard every play, and I don’t take any plays off,” Thompson said to the media when describing his play on the field. “When the ball is snapped, you got to go, and can’t stop.”

Richt claimed Thompson could play any position along the defensive line because of his “very versatile” combination of strength and quickness; however, the head coach wanted to keep the attention off of any single freshman and focus more so on the entire group.

“One of the big things with this camp is ‘team,’ and when you start [only] talking about this guy, or that guy, it kind of takes away from that theme we have,” Richt said when asked specifically about Thompson. “Trent’s like a lot of the other [freshmen]: a very talented guy that when they’re fresh, and know what to do, they’re pretty good. But, when they’re tired and uncertain, they look like freshmen.”

Thompson appeared in front of the media like several of the other freshmen—perhaps, a little nervous—which could certainly be expected of a teenager being extensively interviewed for the very first time as a member of a major-college football team. However, there were a few newcomers who seemed to be rather comfortable, feeling right at home, so to speak.

“I’ve taken a couple of public speaking classes, so…” Natrez Patrick said with a laugh when explaining why he appeared rather relaxed. Patrick, who was considered by some recruiting services as the top defensive end in the state, signed with Georgia out of Mays High School (Atlanta) as an outside linebacker before being switched to inside linebacker this past spring. As one of the team’s eight early enrollees, Patrick interestingly claimed that getting an early jump on most of his fellow freshman teammates wasn’t quite as advantageous as it would seem.

“Honestly, I feel like the way we (freshmen) came together, everybody is starting to get it at the same time,” Patrick said. “So, there were some things I didn’t understand in the spring that I’m starting to understand better now just because of everybody’s input. I might have had a little head start, but at the same time, we’re all just now coming around.”

Another early enrollee, Jonathan Ledbetter, who was considered by Rivals as the second-best defensive end prospect in the state behind Patrick, suggested fall camp thus far was more strenuous than any other sequence of football practices he had experienced before.

“The tempo,” Ledbetter stated when asked what was the biggest difference between fall camp and his previous practice routines. “It’s a faster tempo. But, we’re learning a lot day by day, so we have to be more coachable and just perform.”

Rashad Roundtree, a freshman who just recently stepped on campus, was primarily recruited by defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt while regarded by a number of services as the best defensive back prospect in Georgia. Roundtree was asked if there was any difference in the fiery Pruitt between when he was attempting to lure the sought-after recruit and now in fall camp.

“He’s a lot tougher [now],” Roundtree admitted with a smile. “The personal relationship is still there, although there’s not much contact (between the two personally during fall camp). As a coach, he’s one of the best coaches there is. We actually talk [on the field], he helps us with the concepts, and helps us understand what to do.”

Attracting a crowd which nearly rivaled that of Thompson’s gathering was Nick Moore. An intriguing case, Moore is a 22-year-old freshman walk-on and the newest Bulldog. For four years, he bounced around minor league baseball with four different affiliates of the Boston Red Sox after earning All-State honors at defensive back in 2010 at Brookwood High School in Snellville, Ga. Having bulked up nearly 50 pounds from his high school playing weight, Moore is slotted at inside linebacker and has performed well in fall camp.

“I’d love to play but, however I can help the team—if that’s being the best scout team player; if that’s playing [on] kickoff or punt [units], or if that’s being a starter,” Moore replied when asked what was his goal playing for Georgia. “I want to contribute anyway I can. I’ll be the best teammate. I’ll be the best at whatever [the coaches] want me to do.”

Apparently, Coach Richt’s concept of “team” is already starting to make quite an impression with some of the Bulldogs’ newcomers.

8/11 Fall Camp: Despite Departures, Georgia Seems A-OK at Inside Linebacker

Inside linebackers (L to R) No. 45 Reggie Carter, Ryne Rankin, No. 51 Jake Ganus, No. 6 Natrez Patrick, No. 44 Juwan Taylor, and No. 3 Roquan Smith during Tuesday morning's practice.

ATHENS, Ga.—Last week, Georgia’s inside linebackers coach Mike Ekeler caused somewhat of a stir when he claimed, “I think at this point [the inside linebackers are] better than where we were last year.” It was a rather bold statement considering the Bulldogs lost their two starting inside linebackers from a year ago, Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera, arguably two of the best inside linebackers in Georgia history.

Wilson, who tallied a combined 243 tackles in 2013 and 2014, earned All-SEC recognition both seasons. Herrera, named to the AP’s All-SEC first team last year, became only the 16th Bulldog in history to total 300 tackles for a career, and the first Georgia defender in 17 years (Greg Bright, 1994-1997) to be a four-year starter. Both players were selected in May’s NFL Draft.

Ekeler added that he thought this year’s inside linebackers had “better technique than anybody in college football.” Head coach Mark Richt downplayed the comments by calling the assistant “a very positive, upbeat guy,” while exhibiting a big smile.

Still, if you talk to any of Ekeler’s players, perhaps you’ll understand why their technique is so highly thought of.

“[Technique] is something Coach [Ekeler] really puts an emphasis on,” senior inside linebacker Jake Ganus said following today’s morning practice. Because the Bulldogs had the day off from practice yesterday because of the weather, the team will undergo a second practice this evening. “Technique in football has somewhat become a lost art with all the hurry-up and spread [offenses]. You can lose some technique [by facing those types of offenses]—your footwork, your steps, and where your eyes are.”

Ganus, who transferred from UAB and will play with the Bulldogs a single season, entered fall camp as the top reserve at Will linebacker behind junior Tim Kimbrough. Last season, Kimbrough led all Georgia defenders who didn’t make at least a handful of starts in tackles with 32 while making no starts. Projected to start at the other inside position, Mike linebacker, is junior Reggie Carter.

As far as their backups, another statement by Ekeler is Georgia’s inside linebacker position has “a whole hell of a lot of depth.”

Joining Ganus as seemingly reserves are most notably junior Ryne Rankin, the team’s most improved player of the year last season, and four newcomers: true freshmen Natrez Patrick, Roquan Smith, and Juwan Taylor, and 22-year-old walk-on Nick Moore. Patrick, an early enrollee in the spring, and Smith were considered two of the best at their position in the country coming out of high school. Although Taylor was a late bloomer, he was eventually regarded as one of the best linebacker prospects in his native state of Florida. Moore, a unanimous first team 5-A All-State defensive back at Brookwood High School (Snellville, Ga.) in 2010, played minor league baseball for affiliates of the Boston Red Sox for four years before recently deciding to walk on at Georgia.

Thus far during fall camp, the group has provided stiff completion for Kimbrough and Carter, and likely will continue to do so up to when the season kicks off in just 25 days.

“The competition [at inside linebacker] is good,” said Rankin. “Everybody’s busting their butt every day, trying to go out there and compete.” Rankin added that he and the other older inside linebackers have been helping out the younger players both on and off the field.

“This isn’t high school anymore (for the newcomers)…This ain’t Kansas anymore,” Rankin quipped with a laugh. “Actually, they’ve adapted pretty well, and have performed well in camp. Roquan can chop his feet really well, stay low really well, Natrez is a big powerful dude, Juwan is really smart, and Nick is a thumper.”

Few will argue with Ekeler’s statement that Georgia has plenty of depth at inside linebacker; however, as far as it being better than last year’s unit, while having better technique than anybody in college football, there’s likely only one way that can be resolved.

“He made that statement,” Ganus said of Ekeler, “so now we have to go out there and prove it.”

8/8 Fall Camp: Although Not Overly “Consistent,” Dogs Seemingly Not Inconsistent Like A Year Ago

ATHENS, Ga.—Following today’s Georgia practice—the fifth of fall camp, the first in pads—head coach Mark Richt addressed the media for the first time since just prior to the first preseason practice earlier in the week.

Worthy of mention, this time a year ago, upon the completion of the Bulldogs’ fifth preseason practice and the first in pads of 2014, Richt had commented that although the team had potential, it didn’t “quite have consistency yet.” And, how fitting was the head coach’s remark considering although Georgia would go on to accomplish a 10-win and top-10 campaign last season, the Bulldogs were arguably one of the most inconsistent teams in college football.

Georgia’s roller-coaster season of 2014 was highlighted with notable victories beginning with the season opener over Clemson, back-to-back road wins in mid-October at Missouri and Arkansas, over Auburn in mid-November, and capped with a Belk Bowl victory over Louisville. However, sandwich between each of the “winning” intervals were the Bulldogs’ three losses to South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia Tech, respectively, whereupon Georgia had entered each setback as a significant favorite.

Therefore, a question begging to be asked—or, at least I thought so—was this year had Georgia (or, had not like a year ago) exhibited consistency through the team’s first five preseason practices?

“It’s hard to judge that right now because we’re working so many guys,” Richt replied. “[Being consistent or not] depends on what group you’re looking at: the [first-team units] are obviously [groups] closer to where they need to be than the guys in the [third] and [fourth] units. [There’s] a lot of moving parts right now.”

From Richt’s answer, I concluded that although it’s difficult to determine whether Georgia has been consistent or not so far in fall camp, the team has not been noticeably inconsistent like last year at this time, which, if anything, is a good thing—I guess.

Another good thing for Georgia has been not only the performance of its receiving corps, but the actual number of players in the unit. During the spring, because of departures and injuries, the Bulldogs practiced at times with as few as six receivers on the entire team. However, things have certainly changed in just a few short months.

“Compared to spring we have a good number of [receivers] out there,” Richt said. “I think we’re going to be a pretty athletic bunch, but there is still a lot of learning going on with the young guys, and we’re still trying to get better at what we do. Right now I’m pleased with the unit.”

Perhaps the most pleasing of the unit has been one of the “young guys,” true freshman Terry Godwin, who certainly hasn’t performed like an inexperienced teenager thus far in fall camp. Godwin, a five-star prospect out of Callaway HS in Hogansville, Ga., has been praised by his teammates, and could very well be one of Georgia’s starting receivers when the Bulldogs open the season four weeks from now against Louisiana-Monroe. If so, Godwin will become only the second true freshman wide receiver at Georgia (behind teammate Malcolm Mitchell in 2011) in 44 years to start an season-opening game since freshmen became eligible to play in 1972.

On another note, just before Richt spoke, the media was handed a notice regarding the transfer of redshirt freshman linebacker Detric Bing-Dukes. Dukes, who was listed as the team’s fourth-string “Mike” linebacker entering fall camp, decided to transfer to another institution seeking an opportunity for more playing time.

“I really respect this kid,” Richt said of Dukes. “He really loves Georgia, and was kind of sad to leave, but he loves football too—he loves to play.”

8/7 Fall Camp: Can the Pass Defense’s Remarkable Turnaround Actually Be Topped?

ATHENS, Ga.—Statistically, it is has to be one of the biggest one-year turnarounds by a particular unit in Georgia football history: the play of the Bulldogs’ secondary—namely, the pass defense—from 2013 to last season.

Under the guidance of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham in 2013, Georgia yielded a passing efficiency defensive rating of 134.74, or the second-worst by a Bulldog squad since opposing passing statistics became available in their entirety in 1977.

That offseason, Grantham left for Louisville, and in stepped Jeremy Pruitt into the role as Georgia’s defensive coordinator.

Following Pruitt’s arrival, Tray Matthews, Josh Harvey-Clemons, and Shaq Wiggins—talented defensive backs who started a combined 25 games in 2013—all soon transferred from Georgia, leaving the cupboard practically bare in the Bulldog secondary. Nevertheless, somehow by seemingly a miracle—or, because of a miracle worker of sorts in Pruitt—Georgia’s pass defense promptly transformed from substandard to near spectacular.

“Our mindset,” sophomore Aaron Davis claimed as the primary reason for the secondary’s sudden improvement. “We came into [last season] with a really relentless mindset: we would not let other teams bully us around and make big plays on us.”

After redshirting in 2013, Davis, who still remains a walk-on, started last season in a secondary which limited the opposition to a passing efficiency of only 105.79—the seventh-best in the nation. In addition, the lowly rating was the second-best by a Georgia pass defense in the previous eight seasons (2007-2014), and the fifth-best by the Bulldogs the last 22 years (1993-2014).

Entering fall camp, Davis was listed as one of the defense’s starting cornerbacks; sophomore Malkom Parrish, who was a prominent backup last season, the other.

“We owe it all to effort—flying to the ball,” replied junior safety Quincy Mauger when asked the reason for the turnaround. Mauger, who is the lone returner in the secondary who was a starter for both the 2013 and 2014 campaigns, is again slotted as the first-string strong safety. Sophomore Dominick Sanders, who last season became the first Bulldog freshman (true or redshirt) defensive back to start all of his team’s games in 32 years, is listed as the starting free safety.

Regarding Georgia’s improvement in pass defense under Pruitt, Mauger added that the secondary, or any one individual, shouldn’t receive all the credit. “It’s just not a single guy making plays,” he stressed. “[Players at the 11 different defensive positions] all work together. I feel like when we all give effort, everything comes easy.”

If there is any concern for defending the pass in 2015, perhaps it’s the Bulldogs’ lack of experienced depth in the secondary.

“Besides those guys (the aforementioned Davis, Parrish, Mauger, and Sanders), there’s not a whole lot of guys that have ever played [at Georgia],” Pruitt said. “But, the good thing is we got somewhere probably between eight and 15 guys [in the secondary] that have an opportunity to contribute.”

One of those reserve “guys,” senior Devin Bowman, has actually seen significant playing time, starting nine games for his career, including eight a year ago. Entering preseason practice, Bowman was listed as a reserve cornerback.

Notably, including Bowman, the Bulldogs return four starting defensive backs from a year ago. It represents the first time beginning in the early 1970s, when the program started regularly utilizing four or more defensive backs, Georgia returns four members of its secondary who started at least half the team’s games the year before.

Others joining Bowman in reserve roles are Johnathan Abram and Jarvis Wilson, both of whom are early-enrollee freshmen who stood out during the spring, and slotted as second-string safeties behind Mauger and Sanders, respectively. Also practicing with the safeties thus far in camp is true freshman Rashad Roundtree, who was considered one of the top overall prospects in the state of Georgia coming out of high school.

With the recent departure to the NFL by Damian Swann, who was considered Georgia’s fifth starter in the secondary a year ago at the “Star” position, perhaps another concern for the secondary in 2015 is who will take on a leadership role.

“Hopefully, we have guys that can step into that [leadership] role,” Pruitt said. Notwithstanding, the defensive coordinator apparently should have plenty of leaders in the Georgia secondary for the 2015 season.

“Yes, sir, [all of the defensive backs] are [leaders],” Mauger declared, “whether we’re freshmen, seniors, [sophomores or juniors]. There’s no specific single leader [in the secondary]. We all have a responsibility, and we all take pride in our role.”

One would likely think last season’s pass defense would be difficult to outperform in 2015. However, considering all the returning experience and apparent leadership in this season’s Bulldog secondary, the remarkable one-year turnaround in 2014 could very well be topped.

8/6 Fall Camp: When It Rains, It Pours

ATHENS, Ga.—Following a weather delay of more than two hours due to lightning in the area, the Georgia football team finally hit the Woodruff Practice Fields around 5 p.m. this afternoon for its third practice of preseason camp. During the delay, the Bulldogs were forced inside the Nalley Multi-Purpose Room where the team conducted meetings, a walk-through, and stretched.

Ironically, today’s weather delay, which limited the squad to roughly half the practice time originally planned for outdoors, comes on the heels of a statement made this morning by UGA athletic director Greg McGarity that underground utility work and site preparation for the program’s indoor practice facility will take at least several months to complete. Apparently, the preparation cannot begin until the football team finishes the upcoming season, meaning it may not be until 2017 when the indoor facility is finally ready for use, falling well short of defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s original hope that a facility would be ready as early as this year.

“Despite the fact that we had to deal with the weather delays, we did get some quality work in at practice even if we had to cut it short outside,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “We did a lot of team work, some more installation including extra point and field goals. Overall, we got in what we needed.”

The team’s limited time outdoors resulted in practice, as well as post-practice player interviews, being completely closed to the media. Therefore, until tomorrow, the media is left to speculate on the Bulldogs’ early preseason progress, including the much publicized and contested quarterback race between Brice Ramsey, Greyson Lambert, and Faton Bauta.

Still, as recently as last night, immediately following Georgia’s second practice of fall camp, we seemingly were given a slight hint in regards to which of the competing players had the upper hand thus far.

“If there is a frontrunner, I’d say it’s [senior tight end] Jay Rome,” sophomore tight end Jeb Blazevich kiddingly replied—very tongue in check—when asked about the three-way quarterback race. “[Rome is] who we all think will get the job. He has wonderful deep-ball accuracy, and he’s a running quarterback too!” Blazevich added with a laugh.

The Bulldogs are slated to practice in shells Friday before donning full pads for the first time on Saturday. And, for all of those involved, the good news is the forecast for the Athens area calls for hardly a chance of rain through Sunday—thus, surely no approaching delay due to weather.