ATHENS — Sanford Stadium was looking good Saturday, and so were the Georgia Bulldogs.
Georgia held a rare open practice between the hedges on the occasion of Fan Day. A few thousand spectators took advantage of the opportunity to get a sneak-peak at the 2018 team. Then those that could stand the heat — and it was considerable — queued up at the field’s four entry points for a 45-minute autograph session offered at the conclusion of the workout.
It was the second day of preseason camp for the defending SEC champions, who brought 110 players into camp. That’s an increase by five over the previous maximum allowed by the NCAA. By rule, the Bulldogs can have as many as 28 practices before the Sept. 1 opener against Austin Peay.
Accordingly, the focus remained entirely on drill work and offensive and defensive repetition. The Bulldogs did that by “two-spotting” and sometimes even “four-spotting” every exercise. That means having more than one of the same drill or play going at any time.
There was a lot of mixing and matching going on as far as which players were working with what units. To that end, the hierarchy was more distinguishable with some position groups than others.
For instance, the No. 1 offensive line looked to be exactly as we left it at the end of spring practice. That is with Andrew Thomas at left tackle, Kendall Baker at left guard, Lamont Gaillard at center, Ben Cleveland at right guard and Isaiah Wilson at tackle. The second team line consisted of LT D’Marcus Hayes, LG Solomon Kindley, center Ericson, right guard Netori Johnson and right tackle Cade Mayes.
Quarterbacks Jake Fromm and Justin Fields clearly were working No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
Conversely, wide receivers and defensive backs were running in and out of segments at a breakneck pace. Generally, though, the passing game looked sharp through “skeleton” work, with both Fields and Fromm drawing applause from spectators for long completions and receivers for spectacular catches.
There were impressive defensive plays as well. Sophomore safety Richard LeCounte intercepted Fromm twice in 11-on-11 work and nearly had another pick in pass-skeleton drills.
With the resident disclaimer that there was no availability afterward for context and the Bulldogs are switching roles a lot on both sides of the ball at this early stage, here some other quick observations:
- Based on personnel groups on Saturday at least, it looks like Natrez Patrick might be good to go out of the box this season. The senior inside linebacker was working alongside Tae Crowder with the No. 1 defense during a situational 11-on-11 segment midway through the practice. Patrick’s status for early games has remained uncleared following his two-game suspension at the end of last season for an arrest that led to a probation violation. Smart has said Patrick is “with the team” but has declined to discuss specifically when Patrick will be available.
- Sophomore defensive backs William Poole and Mark Webb got a lot work with the No. 1 defense at cornerback and nickelback (or star), respectively.
- Sophomore Deangelo Gibbs was working with the No. 2 defensive backfield unit at the star position in pass-skeleton drills.
- Based on the personnel surrounding him, it looked as though true freshman Jake Camarda was the No. 1 punter. Landon Stratton, a graduate transfer from Murray State, worked with the No. 2 unit. Place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship and redshirt freshman walkon Brooks Buce were with the 3s and 4s, respectively. Marshall Long, the only other scholarship punter on the team, was not present. He’s recovering from an off-season knee injury.
- Transfer wide receiver Demetris Robertson scored a 35-yard touchdown from Fromm during a late 11-on-11 drill. The sophomore from Savannah by way of Cal-Berkley got in reps primarily with the third-team offense throughout practice.
- Among the individuals providing him assistance understanding the new offense was senior Terry Godwin. Godwin was on the field but sat out most full-speed situations with what coach Kirby Smart described Friday as a “very minor” knee injury.”
- Freshman running back James Cook showed impressive speed and burst and good hands as the Bulldogs targeted him often on flair routes in the flat out of the backfield. Senior flanker Ahkil Crumpton also looked extremely quic
- Speaking of Smart, he was all over the place as usual during practice. He moved from group to group but stuck mainly with the defense and, for a while, ran one of the two-spot drills with linebackers and defensive backs.
- At one point, Smart had an extended “coaching opportunity” with senior linebacker Juwan Taylor. A demonstrative discussion started toward the end of one period and carried into the next. Taylor, who’s battling for the starting spot at Roquan Smith’s “Money” inside linebacker spot, dutifully listened to his coach and received a helmet pat and “attaboy” at the end. … Taylor and Monty Rice repped at inside linebacker mostly with the No. 2 defense.
- Sophomore left tackle Andrew Thomas stood in front of the team and “called up the Dogs” at the beginning of stretching and calisthenics. That’s a role typically reserved for seniors or members of the team’s “leadership committee.”
- Noise from construction on the West End renovation project pervaded Georgia’s entire two-hour practice and the area was closed to the public. Reports are the inside of the $63 million facility is complete minus only some finishing touches. The majority of attention now is on the bridge and the plaza area below the now completely finished scoreboard.