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Tony Walsh / UGA Sports
Georgia football is back at practice on Monday.

Kirby Smart stresses depth, adaptability as Georgia football begins championship journey

ATHENS — Georgia football practice begins on Monday, the first of 25 practices over a 40-day span leading up to the Bulldogs’ season-opening game on Sept. 26.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart spoke Sunday about the challenges his team faces, and the questions that have yet to be answered, some more pressing that others.

“What a crazy time it has been the last five months,” said Smart, whose program finished last season ranked No. 4 and began this preseason in that very same slot.

RELATED: Deep dive into Georgia football COVID-19 protocol

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of spring drills and a disjointed offseason. The players reported back to campus for the start of voluntary workouts on June 8 and recently finishing up two weeks of walk-through activities.

Smart said the team will be in shorts and helmets on Monday and Tuesday and add shoulder pads on Wednesday and Thursday. The fifth practice, full pads and contact are allowed.

The Power 5 conferences of the SEC, Big 12 and ACC are just glad to be practicing, along with the Group of Five conferences of the AAC, Conference USA and Sun Belt.

When the Big Ten and Pac-12 canceled their seasons last week, it had caused a stir of uncertainty and controversy across the collegiate football landscape.

Smart, meanwhile, continued to preach and apply his football edicts to the situation: control what you can control; get comfortable being uncomfortable.

I’m definitely not upset with the uncertainty, that’s the day and age that we live in,” Smart said on his Sunday Zoom call. “Adaptability is going to be one of the most important factors of this team, and the teams that handle it best will probably be at an advantage.”

Smart and his staff have some hard decisions to make this week as far as Georgia’s roster goes, as it must get cut down to 85 scholarship players.

None of the players have opted out of using their scholarship this season — a right they have  been granted, with no eligibility or team standing penalty by the NCAA.

“We will have some guys with the opportunity to possibly go on scholarships or come off scholarships with things that transpire over the next couple of weeks and days,” said Smart, whose program has won three straight SEC East Division titles and is favored to do so once again.

RELATED: Kirby Smart shares Georgia football injury report

Georgia lost three strong players to transfer already this offseason: Offensive lineman Cade Mays (Tennessee) and defensive backs Divaad Wilson (Central Florida) and Otis Reese (Ole Miss).

The tradeoff has been the additions of transfer quarterbacks Jamie Newman (Wake Forest) and JT Daniels (Southern Cal), along with tight end Tre’ McKitty (Florida State).

The Bulldogs are loaded with returning talent, as well, and that depth could prove to be Georgia’s trump card in what has the makings of a championship season.

“Depth is going to be key, we’ve preached that to our coaches,” Smart said. “Every practice, every walkthrough, everything we’re doing, we’re doing coaching for four groups of people.

“We’re trying to coach like we’re going to have to play a game against an SEC rival with possibly our third or fourth guy. You’ve got to approach it that way and build depth on your team and coach the young guys on your roster.”

Indeed, COVID-19 protocol calls for players to be tested three times a week. Symptomatic players who test positive have to quarantine for 10 days; Asymptomatic quarantined for 10 days from the start of symptoms.

The players know the consequences and say their focus is on following the protocol.

“There’s really no uncertainty here, we all feel confident in all this stuff,” UGA cornerback Eric Stokes said. “We feel safe here. It could be much more dangerous at home than being here.”

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