ATHENS — Georgia football took a businesslike approach to Monday’s practice.
The Bulldogs lacked the zeal they exhibited the closing weeks of the season but appeared productive.
While there was plenty of pep from the three early enrollees who were on the practice field, it was also noteworthy that defensive back Deangelo Gibbs was not spotted.
Smart also mentioned Monday morning that tight end Luke Ford was not currently with the team, but he does expect him to return and make the trip to the Sugar Bowl.
“Luke is in Illinois, he’s home right now,” Smart said, “and we’re expecting Luke to return right after Christmas and practice with us here and then go to the bowl game.”
Smart did not address Gibbs’ status with the team. Gibbs was not enrolled at Georgia during the spring semester after missing the Rose Bowl and CFB title game.
The early enrollees
The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs (11-2) figure to have some attrition before facing No. 15 Texas (9-4) in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1. It’s possible Gibbs won’t be with the team, but then, neither will the three incoming players who took part in Monday’s workout.
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Clay Webb, a 5-star prospect from Oxford, Ala., certainly looked the part in the drill work. It’s too early to tell too much, but the 6-foot-3, 295-pound Webb certainly passed the eyeball test.
Likewise for cornerback D.J. Daniel, a 4-star prospect from the Georgia Military Academy. Daniel has noticeably long arms on his athletic frame, a positive characteristic for a cornerback.
Defensive tackle Tramel Walthour, who comes to UGA by way of Hutchinson (Kans.) Community College, looked slightly bigger than the 6-4, 277 he’s listed. That said, it appears Walthour will need to get bigger before fitting in on the Georgia line.
Smart said he likes the progress he has seen Walthour make over the past year.
“We got to follow him throughout the year, stayed in communication with him, did some really good things,” Smart said. “He’s come back in really good shape, got good size to him. Haven’t really been able to see anything in the two practices because he hasn’t been in pads.”
Smart said that outside linebacker Jermaine Johnson (6-6, 250) would join the team on Monday, though he was not spotted at practice.
“Jermaine should be joining us today, but they all have to go through acclimation period, so there may be some things they can and can’t do,” Smart said. “But we’re excited to have those guys. I think be that’s a great benefit for kids to come in and get that practice, although they can’t travel to the bowl game with us.”
Outside linebacker issue
It was clear Georgia was putting a lot of emphasis on evaluating the younger players.
Outside linebacker Brenton Cox, who lost contain on two key plays in Alabama’s 35-28 win over Georgia after starter D’Andre Walker left the game with an injury, was purposely placed at the front end of drill work during the open media portion of the practice.
Walker was not at practice on account of the groin injury he suffered against the Tide. Smart said he expects Walker to be back for the Sugar Bowl.
That said, Walker has a Senior Bowl invitation and that typically translates to an NFL Combine invitation. Smart said no players have informed him that they won’t play in the bowl game, but Walker’s health and status are worth keeping a close eye on.
Smart will be watching the younger players closely.
“This is the time of year where you actually get to develop the youth on your roster, (and) we get to practice the guys, a lot of the younger guys who haven’t got a chance to play and develop or maybe only some chances to play, they really get to grow and get better,” Smart said.
“I’ve always thought that bowl practices is where guys start to show the biggest increase,” he said. “I think back to Roquan (Smith’s) game against TCU and what he was able to do to kickoff his junior season, he did some really good things in that game, and we’re selling it to our program that you’ve got an opportunity to play on a national stage, New Year’s Six game, and we’re excited for that.”
Freshman Cade Mays appeared to be back working with the first team at right guard in practice, while Ben Cleveland was seeing work at offensive tackle with the second team.
Inside linebacker Monty Rice was back at practice as well and showed no ill-effects of the foot injury that has sidelined him since warmups for the UMass game on Nov. 17.
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