ATHENS — Spring practice is now behind us. Classes end at UGA on Wednesday and final exams begin on Friday. Now the Georgia Bulldogs are about to enter that vast stretch of desert known as The Offseason.
And somewhere, Georgia’s most loyal fans are grabbing their rosary beads or bowing on bended knee in hopes that their Bulldogs are all present, accounted for and healthy when preseason camp opens four months hence.
Thus far the controversy has been minimal. Riley Ridley had a little run-in at the beginning of the spring that will result in his suspension from the first game of the regular season. More recently, D’Antne Demery, an offensive line signee, had his national-letter-of-intent rejected following an arrest in which he’s accused of domestic violence.
As it is, Georgia will enter the “May-mester” with 85 players on scholarship, the maximum allowed by NCAA rule. Keep it there and they should be in good shape for the fall.
In the meantime, let’s wrap-up a little unfinished business, put a bow on G-Day and clean out the ol’ notebook as head into the next phase.
Ham kicking it in music
I got called out on Twitter Monday by William Ham — and a couple of other folks — about a sentence I had in my column on Rodrigo Blankenship this past Saturday. I mentioned that Ham, the former Georgia walk-on kicker, and fellow walk-on kicker Mitchell Wasson had quit the team this spring because Blankenship had been dominating the competition.
Actually, Ham quit the team after last season, in which Blankenship finished as the Bulldogs’ starting kicker. (I knew this but I’m human and stupid sometimes just wasn’t thinking clearly when I hurriedly hammered out that line). Wasson, a freshman who joined the team last August, left the team two weeks ago.
The mix-up gave me cause to give Ham a call to apologize and to catch up. He was gracious and kind, as I remembered in brief previous encounters. And he’s really happy to not be embroiled in the kicking competition any longer.
“Honestly looking back on it, I don’t regret what happened at all,” Ham said of losing the starting job and deciding to leave the team. “I am very happy for Rod. He and I are good friends. We spent a lot of time together. Even though we were competitors, we understood we both put in a lot of work every day. Even at the beginning when I had the kickoff job and he had the kickoff job we were happy for each other. I’m glad he did what he did last season and I hope the best for him this season.”
Ham is concentrating on school full time and hopes to pursue a career in the music business. A year from graduation, he’s working this summer in Nashville, where he hopes to spend some time with former UGA kicker Billy Bennett, who also works in the music biz.
Asked if he’d still be at Georgia if Blankenship had not beaten out for the starting kicking job, Ham said, “that’s a great question.” But clearly he doesn’t miss all the mind games.
“After Missouri, I didn’t really get a chance from the coaches at all,” said Ham, who fiished his career 3-for-7 on field goals and 10-of-10 on PATs. “Even when I got into practice Ole Miss week, I kicked with the 1s all week. To be honest with you, Rodrigo nor I knew who was going to start against Ole Miss on field goals. Rodrigo thought I was going to start field goals until five minutes before the first kickoff. The coaches weren’t being transparent with us. We didn’t have a clue who was going to start. They just put Rod in.”
Ham didn’t attempt a placement kick again the rest of the season. He did handle some kickoffs the final two games of the season.
“Things happen,” Ham said. “The past is the past. So, honestly, just the combination of Rod’s good performance and the coaches not giving me another live chance, there just was no reason to go anymore. I had other opportunities, so I pursued that.”
Eason, Fromm revisited
It’s been interesting to see the reaction to my column on Jake Fromm from Saturday’s G-Day Game. My only point after watching him perform in the annual spring scrimmage was that he looked really good running the offense and may be more ready to play this season than previously thought.
Of course, he needs to be ready to play with only sophomore Jacob Eason standing ahead of him. That’s a twisted ankle or proverbial “bell-ringing hit” from having to run the show instead of Eason in a big game.
I wasn’t intimating that Fromm (14-23, 177 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) might unseat Eason (16-36-311-2-1) as a starter before we get to the first game of the regular season. I thought Eason showed some good progress in the G-Day Game as well, not to mention the spring as a whole. And there is no substitute for the 13 games of experience he gained last season, including 12 starts.
That said, I thought Fromm generally played better in the G-Day and probably graded better overall. Now the competition has to be taken into account, and Fromm benefited from facing the No. 2 defense and no front-line DBs. But for me it was his quick decision-making and smooth operation that took me aback.
And the point is, it’s not just about this season for these two. It will carry on into next season at least. Their competition could get real interesting before it’s over.
O-line competition will intensify
By revoking D’Antne Demery’s letter-of-intent on Sunday, Georgia is now “down to” 16 offensive linemen for this coming season. And I write that with tongue in cheek, as there are a lot of SEC teams that would love to have 16 offensive linemen to choose from in any given year.
But if G-Day demonstrated anything to me on Saturday, it was that there remain several rungs on the ladder the O-line still needs to climb to be able to transform Georgia back into the offense it needs to be. I would’n’t expect the starting lineup that you saw Saturday will be the one you see when the Bulldogs open against Appalachian State on Sept. 2.
The only two positions I believe might be the same for the season opener is center Lamont Gaillard and left tackle Isaiah Wynn. And, yes, I believe Wynn will hold onto that critical spot. The new faces were redshirt sophomore Pat Allen at left guard, redshirt freshman Solomon Kindley at right guard and Dyshon Sims at right tackle. Look for incoming freshmen such as Netori Johnson and Justin Shaffer to get a long look at guard, and Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson may have something to say at that right tackle position before it’s over.
The good news is Bulldogs have recruited hard in that area and have a lot of options line. I imagine Sam Pittman will be doing a whole lot of mixing-and-matching before he settles on a top five this year. And it won’t likely stay the same all season.
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