The Georgia football team began its pursuit its second consecutive SEC championship Friday with its first day of practice, and coach Kirby Smart promised he’d get the full measure of his club between now and the Bulldogs’ season opener Sept. 1 against Austin Peay.
“This is going to be a tough, physical camp, which all of them are, and I tell the players all the time, what's going to separate us from 13 other SEC teams is what we do between now and the first game,” Smart said in the hours before the first practice.
Now in his third season, Smart said he anticipates so much competition for playing time that he hasn’t yet seen team leaders emerge.
“Now, who the leaders are, y'all are going to ask me that 100 times, I don't think that’s come all the way out yet,” Smart said. “You certainly have players that you want to put in that position, but we’ve got so many competitions at each position that I don't think that a starter has to necessarily lead.”
“We have a lot of guys with a lot of talent and there’s going to be a lot of competition,” said offensive tackle Andrew Thomas said. “For the guys starting right now, it is going to push us, and for the defense it will make them a lot better because once you go from the ones and twos, it’s almost like the same thing.”
While sophomore Jake Fromm enjoyed a sensational freshman season, he likely will be pressed in summer drills by freshman Justin Fields, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound recruit from Harrison High School.
Smart didn’t address a possible quarterback battle, but did say there will be equal opportunity abounding.
“Our ones, twos, threes, fours are going to get the same number of reps at practice, and we're going to evaluate them and say who's doing the best job of competing to the standard we want, and then we'll make decisions from there who plays,” he said.
Players asked about the potential competition were quick to extoll the merits of both Fromm and Fields.
“We’ve got two of the best quarterbacks in the country,” tight end Isaac Nauta said. “Both of those guys are going to have a great competition in camp, and one guy has already been established, and we’re all waiting to see what the other guy can do. Two great players, two great guys working together is only going to make them both better.”
“Of course it’s a competition. There’s a competition at every position we have,” wide receiver Riley Ridley added. “I feel confident in Justin and I feel confident in Jake that both are able to lead the team if needed.”
Fromm, who had an interesting summer during his leisure time with a fishing-hook accident and a broken bone in his non-throwing hand, was among the players Smart mentioned while providing an update on injuries.
Smart said Fromm would wear a “precautionary split” for Friday’s practice, adding “he’ll be able to do everything we need him to do.”
Also on the list was top-rated running back recruit Zamir White, who tore his ACL during his senior season in high school (he’ll be full-go with a protective brace); linebacker Jaden Hunter, who has a hamstring issue and will be somewhat limited; wide receiver Terry Godwin (a minor issue with his left knee), whom Smart said would be limited, “but I’m sure he’s fine;” and defensive back Deangelo Gibbs, whom Smart said was “fully cleared” from an earlier shoulder injury.
One of the areas Georgia will address this summer is reconstructing its secondary after the departure of Malkom Parrish, Dominick Sanders and Aaron Davis. Safety J.R. Reed and cornerback Deandre Baker return to the fold, but as of the first day of practices, things appear a bit misty.
Smart said Tray Bishop was scheduled to practice while his legal situation (he was arrested in May by Athens-Clarke County Police on a felony eavesdropping/surveillance charge) is still being sorted out. Smart added junior Tyrique McGhee, Richard LeCounte and Latavious Brini will get work at safety and mentioned Ameer Speed, Mark Webb, Tyson Campbell and Chris Smith as players who will get a look-see.
“We've got some guys that we think can play that are going to have to go out and grow up, and that's going to be one of the main areas that we're focused on developing depth, but also developing who's going to start … besides Baker and Reed,” he said. “There’s not really anybody out there that's started – Tyrique maybe had a few, but we're going to find out a lot about the secondary in this camp. We've got to find guys that can tackle.”