ATHENS — Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker had to stop the action right in the middle of one of his drills Monday to get onto one of his charges. Only, this wasn’t one of his players. It was a team manager. She wasn’t handling water distribution to the coach’s liking.
It was that kind of a day for the Georgia Bulldogs, the first day of preseason camp. It was the first of a possible 29 practices they will use to get prepared for the coming season.
So there were lots of stops and starts, lots of curse words flying from the mouths of coaches and a lot of huffing and puffing from the players. But the 2016 season was under way, and everybody seemed to be very happy about that.
“I’m fired up,” Georgia first-year head coach Kirby Smart said at a noon news conference preceding the Bulldogs’ 3:30 p.m. practice at the Club Sports Complex on South Milledge Avenue. “I am fired up to finally get to go on the grass and have a ball out there and get to throw it around and practice a little ball. We are excited as a staff. Energetic and rejuvenated is probably the right word after a little summer break of being away from the players. I’m ecstatic to get out there and get going.”
Said junior linebacker Reggie Carter: “I’m very excited, glad to be back. It’s going to be a fun year. I’m just happy to be back out there with my teammates.”
There weren’t a lot of answers to be provided on this first day. The vaunted quarterback competition is expected to continue undecided for the next four weeks at least, and the Bulldogs were shuffling offensive tackles in and out of the lineup like pushpins on corkboard.
There were some positive signs, though. For instance, No. 27 was present and accounted for among the tailbacks. Not only was Nick Chubb going through every drill with all of his backfield mates, he was first in line for all of them and was doing them without a noticeable limp. Only a black brace served as evidence of a once-ravaged left knee.
In fact, Smart said Chubb has been doing everything the rest of the team has done for three months now. At this point, his teammates expect nothing but the same ol’ Nick for camp — and the season.
“Nick has never changed,” senior center Brandon Kublanow said. “Nick is who he is. He’s a freak athlete and he’s done a good job of rehabbing and he’s getting ready for camp just like the rest of us.”
Meanwhile, on an adjacent field, fellow tailback Sony Michel was being put through jump-step conditioning drills under the watchful eye of sports medicine director Ron Courson. SEE VIDEO BELOW It’s routine with which Chubb is very familiar as he did it every day during spring practice.
Michel broke both bones in a left forearm in an ATV accident July 4th weekend and is being held out of the initial workouts. If and when he might get back into the fold remains unclear.
“Sony is going to be limited at the beginning,” Smart said. “There are going to be things that he can and can’t do. He’s going to really work hard on the conditioning aspect early on. We’re not really comfortable with him right now if he’d have to fall and brace himself, so he won’t be as involved.”
Absent from the proceedings was sophomore defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter. Ledbetter is not participating in team activities while he receives treatment for substance abuse issues that contributed to him being arrested twice in four months. The projected starter is expected to be suspended for at least three games as a result of those alcohol-related arrests, though Smart has said Ledbetter’s return will be determined by his recovery and well-being.
On the field, the Bulldogs were being rotated through high-tempo drills and position during a 10-minute viewing period. At this point, freshmen such as cornerback Mecole Hardman and tailback Elijah Holyfield, and first-year transfers such as tackle Tyler Catalina and receiver Javon Wims, were getting as much attention as the veterans and returning starters.
The focus for the next two weeks will all be internal, Smart said. He insisted the Bulldogs aren’t thinking at all about North Carolina and that high-profile date to play Sept. 3 in the Georgia Dome.
“The opener has nothing to do with the preseason camp, whatsoever,” Smart said. The preseason camp is about the preseason camp, regardless of who we’re playing. … It’s not going to change based on the opponent. The goals and objectives of a preseason camp are to establish your identity as a team. We’ve preached really hard to our players of what that is: Being a big, physical football team, a downhill football team, and playing with toughness and relentless effort. Those are the things we want to establish in camp and that’s what’s important to me.”
Now if they can just get the water distribution down pat.