Towers: A dose of new reality with UGA’s new Fans Day

It was a scene of organized chaos for 45 minutes at the end of Georgia's open practice as fans hurried through lines to get the autographs of coach Kirby Smart and their favorite players.

ATHENS — It was a no-frills kind of day for Georgia football fans Saturday.

On one hand, the ones who bothered to withstand the heat within Sanford Stadium got the rare treat of seeing a Bulldogs’ practice from beginning to end.

On the other hand, they didn’t get to have their picture taken with their favorite player or coach. As they were reminded constantly throughout the day, no photos or video were permitted on what used to be known as Fans Picture Day.

Now it’s known just as Fans Day 2016. There were some complaints on social media about the less warm-and-fuzzy access but, for the most part, it appeared fans adjusted.

Fans saw and heard this message a lot Saturday at Sanford Stadium.

“It was more of a picture process before; this year it was more about the signing part,” said Josh Vinluan, who came to the stadium from Winder with a friend and their sons. “We went down there and we beat a lot of people down there (to the field). But we were on the wrong side of the hallway, so we got shoved to the end of the line. So we had to go all the back to the back of the line and work out way back.”

Vinluan said he explained their dilemma to an usher and they let his son, 14-year-old Sean Vinluan, in at the front of the line. But he and the rest of his party left without getting anything signed.

But Vinluan wasn’t complaining really. He said that was countered by being able to watch the Dogs practice and being able to form their own opinions of the players and how the team looked.

“Oh, that part was great, just being out here and getting to see the players,” said Vinluan, wearing a Todd Gurley II Los Angeles Rams jersey. “I wish we could’ve had a little more one-on-one time with them. But I know it’s hard with all the people that want to get stuff signed.”

Several hundred fans were still queued up for autographs on the field when P.A. announcer Brook Whitmire announced that everyone would need to leave the field immediately. That was exactly 45 minutes after the session started. They had a clock counting down and Whitmire announced how much time was left at 10-minute intervals.

But while the players left the field immediately, Smart remained at his tented station in the middle of the West end zone and continued to sign until every person had gotten his autograph.

Overall, the day went well. It began in the morning with Smart and his two coordinators, in separate sessions, briefing the media on the team’s progress. It was the first time since their hirings — Jim Chaney in December, Mel Tucker in January — that Georgia’s coordinators have been available for interviews. And it will be the last until bowl season, provided that the Bulldogs qualify for postseason play.

That’s another page right out of the Alabama playbook, just like Fans Day is.

As for the on-field proceedings, there were some promising moments. There were some freshmen that made some head-turning plays. Cornerback Mecole Hardman blocked two field goals using his speed to rush in from the edge. Isaac Nauta continues to occupy a significant role on the offense. So does Riley Ridley. Receiver Tyler Simmons and tailback Elijah Holyfield had some moments as well.

Wideout Michael Chigbu stood out again. Safety Dominick Sanders made plays, as usual, including an interception. Left tackle play was solid with a rotation of junior Isaiah Wynn and graduate transfer Tyler Catalina. Quarterback play was solid but unspectacular.

Meanwhile, No. 27 — Nick Chubb — lined up at tailback, took handoffs, made cuts and was wrapped up with hard tackles, though never to the ground. And he did it without any visible limitations.

That was the most important takeaway from Saturday’s proceedings. The rest, Bulldog fans will just have to get used to.

NextWatch: Seth Emerson talks about Georgia’s open practice
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