ATHENS – Georgia broke out the watermelon Saturday at Sanford Stadium. The “Watermelon Cuttin'” is one of the oldest traditions there is with regard to the Bulldogs’ football. It goes back to the Dooley Days and signifies the end of preseason camp and the beginning of the season, per se.
The breaking-of-the-watermelon, if you will, used to come at the end of two-a-days, but now they don’t have two-a-days anymore, thanks to new NCAA player safety regulations. Nevertheless, when Georgia breaks out the watermelon, it means the hard and uncomfortable work of toughening up a team and determining who is going to contribute the coming season is pretty much done. So now the Bulldogs must make the shift from getting themselves ready to getting ready for somebody else.
It’s not a transition coach Kirby Smart is eager to make. The watermelons came out at the end of Georgia’s second full-scale scrimmage of the preseason Saturday at Sanford Stadium. It was the last truly competitive scrimmage of the year, from the standpoint of determining who is going to play and how much.
Some of those position battles will continue on into the season. But, for the most part, you’ve got to start getting 44 ready to face another team and decide what others are going to help you out on special teams.
The Bulldogs will conduct another scrimmage next Saturday, but that essentially will be a dress rehearsal for the season opener against Appalachian State, then just a week away. But coach Kirby Smart is not in a hurry to turn attention away from his team and onto an opponent.
“We feel like by the end of the week next week we’ll be able to start working on it,” Smart said on Saturday of the game plan for Appalachian State. “I don’t believe in starting work on an opponent you’re going to play immediately because kids can get burned out on that. I’ve had a lot of history as an assistant coach where you do want more than a week, but you don’t want two weeks. So we’ll do some next week. We’ll start working on it.”
One thing Bulldogs have working for them is both App State and Notre Dame, their Week 2 opponent, run spread-oriented offenses, so there should be come carry-over there. Not as much is known about the defense, under the first year of defensive coordinator Mike Elko. The good news is there are a lot of similarities in the 4-2-5 defense he brings from Wake Forest and the one Georgia utilizes itself. So there should be some familiarity there for the Bulldogs.
Smart says they’re not spending much time right now concerning themselves with either opponent, though you can be assured a good portion of Georgia’s battalion of support staff has been gathering as much intel as possible.
“There may or may not be similarities. In those two teams, App State and Notre Dame, there’s not a ton,” Smart said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “On different sides of the ball it’s a different story, because obviously one’s offense is different than the other and one’s defense is a little different than the other.”
Pretty much everything has been settled on Georgia’s depth chart at this point. Well, everything until last week’s unfortunate injury to starting cornerback Malkom Parrish. His loss for three to four weeks due to a broken foot has had a domino effect throughout the secondary.
For now, Aaron Davis has moved into Parrish’s cornerback position, and Tyrique McGhee, J.R. Reed and Deangelo Gibbs are jockeying to fill in at Davis’ previous spot at star, or nickelback. Whatever scenario prevails, Smart assured one and all that “it’s not doomsday” and Parrish will soon be back and everything will go back to normal.
Until the next injury, of course. Such as football.
Some other questions that we’ve seen answered during this camp:
Who will start at left tackle?
That’ll be senior Isaiah Wynn. And it isn’t close, even though Wynn missed a week with an illness.
Which freshman will emerge on the offensive line?
That’d be Andrew Thomas — in a landslide. The Pace Academy graduate at this point appears the player most likely to start at right tackle for the Bulldogs. But he’s also gotten reps at left guard and left tackle. He’s going to play somewhere.
Will Jacob Eason be challenged as starting quarterback?
No. The question is who would be first in to relieve or replace Eason if he falters or is hurt. That’d freshman Jake Fromm, who has had a strong camp in his own right.
Who’s going to kick?
Smart effectively awarded the starting punter’s job to transfer Cameron Nizialek on Saturday, saying the fifth-year senior has distanced himself from sophomore Marshall Morgan, who appears still affected by last year’s knee injury. There’s less clarity at kicker, though Rodrigo Blankenship seems to be moving toward locking down the kickoff job while still leg-wrestling with transfer David Marvin over placement kicks. The good news is the competition has them both performing well.
Who will emerge at wide receiver?
Terry Godwin has been the Bulldogs’ star of camp. He will play both the slot and at the outside positions to make room for Mecole Hardman, who has also been impressive in the slot. Michael Chigbu, Jayson Stanley, Riley Ridley and Javon Wims will assume primary roles. Ahkil Crumpton and freshmen J.J. Holloman and Mark Webb will try to work their way into the rotation.
Everything else is basically status quo for the Bulldogs. And that’s a good thing as we’re now within two weeks of the opener against App State
Time is of the essence and the watermelon is ripe!
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