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How is UGA quarterback Justin Fields faring in his first spring practice in Athens?

UGA football: Checking in on our 5 players to watch in spring practice

Cy Brown

Welcome to Good Day, UGA, your one-stop shop for Georgia football news and takes. Check us out every weekday morning for everything you need to know about Georgia football, recruiting, basketball and more.

Checking in on UGA’s players to watch

A few days before spring practice commenced, I noted five players you should keep an eye on in the run-up to G-Day. Now that we’ve got more practices behind than ahead of us and April 21 is firmly in sight, it’s a good time to re-visit those players and check out what Kirby Smart has had to say about a few of them this spring.

Mark Webb, CB — There has been a lot of curiosity about Webb since he switched from receiver to defensive back last season. That curiosity was only piqued when teammates spoke highly of him in the buildup to the national title game. So far this spring, he’s lived up to the hype. Webb is one of the only defensive backs who’s been singled out for praise by Smart, who also said Webb is in a “stiff competition” for a starting corner job with Ameer Speed and Eric Stokes.

“The one unique thing about Mark is he’s a good tackler, and that is not always a great trait for some corners,” Smart said. “So he’s physical, he’s a good tackler, he really wants to learn the defense.”

Jonathan Ledbetter, DE — There hasn’t been much said about Ledbetter this spring, which is probably a good thing. Ledbetter is a known quantity and expected to be very good this season. I included him in the initial players to watch list because of his potential growth as one of the veteran leaders of the team. While Smart and his staff have to worry about depth along the defensive line, it seems they don’t have to worry about Ledbetter’s capacity as a leader.

“I feel like he’s in a good place. He’s become a vocal leader on our team.” Smart said. “He’s a guy that when he speaks, people listen. They listen to people who have had hard times and fell on hard times. He can speak on an experience that not all of our players can speak on.”

Marshall Long, P — Long is set to fend off incoming freshman Jake Camarda for the starting punter gig come fall, giving him all of spring practice to create some separation between himself and the blue-chipper. If he has managed to do that, Smart hasn’t noticed … yet.

“I’ve been so caught up in the rush protection and coverage part, I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t really looked,” Smart said, according to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald. “Marshall’s been out there kicking, and I think he’s been doing a good job especially with his [operation] times, but I haven’t seen distance, hang time, direction. That’s something we chart, and then we’re going to come back and look at and say, ‘Where is he?’ ”

Riley Ridley, WR — Ridley’s presence was nearly nonexistent on the stat sheet last season until he sprang to life in the National Championship Game with 6 catches for 82 yards. The question after that performance is where he’d fall in the receiver pecking order. Smart hasn’t said much about Ridley this spring, but his failure to include him when praising the backup receivers indicates to me that Ridley is penciled in as a starter alongside Terry Godwin and Mecole Hardman.

Justin Fields, QB — Fields was destined to be the most analyzed and scrutinized player on the team from the moment he stepped foot on campus — probably before that, too. Example A: Smart has been effusive in his praise for Fields, but did mention last week that Fields and his fellow freshmen were “hitting a little bit of a wall.” A week later, after a lot of talk in the media about Fields and his wall, including from me, Smart pushed back on the characterization that Fields was the one hitting a wall. Smart said he was referring to another group of freshmen and that Fields “is really not like that.”

“He’s very intuitive, he’s very smart, he picks things up well,” Smart said, according to Weiszer. “When I say, ‘hitting the wall,’ I mean there’s times where they kind of don’t do as well as maybe we’d like them to do. I was really talking about the other freshmen, not so much him. He didn’t have his best day after that either. But this week he’s been very efficient, made good decisions.”

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Jonas Hayes hired by Xavier

Former Georgia basketball assistant Jonas Hayes will not be staying in Athens as part of Tom Crean’s staff. Hayes, a former Georgia basketball player himself, has been named an assistant coach at Xavier.

Hayes spent four seasons on Mark Fox’s coaching staff at Georgia. Fans mostly grew to know him in the final few months of his tenure when he helped assemble one of the top recruiting classes in the nation for a short time. It fell apart along with Georgia’s season, with both blue-chip prospects in the class de-committing before Fox was fired. Georgia fans were vocal about wanting Crean to keep Hayes on staff as they hoped he could rebuild that once-vaunted class and give a kick-start to Crean’s first season.

“We would have loved for him to stay, but we totally understand his desire to start a new chapter in his career at Xavier,” Crean said in a statement. “Jonas leaves with our respect and thanks for all that he has done for UGA. He’s got an excellent future, and he will always be a part of this university and basketball family.”

Although Hayes was viewed as Georgia hoops’ ace-in-the-hole regarding in-state recruiting, Crean already has an assistant of a similar pedigree in place. Former Georgia Tech assistant Chad Dollar was hired last week. Crean has two vacancies left to fill on his coaching staff.

Softball star Brittany Gray to miss rest of senior season

With a 35-5 record and a 25-game winning streak in its back pocket, things have been going great for the Georgia softball team this season. But the Bulldogs received bad news Monday, when it was announced that senior pitcher Brittany Gray, one of the top players in program history, will miss the rest of the season with a bicep injury.

Gray was in the midst of an outstanding season, racking up a 16-1 record before the injury, pitching 12 complete games with 7 shutouts. Her 0.48 ERA was second nationally. Gray finishes her Georgia career sixth in career wins (60) and eighth in complete games (39). She’s the sixth player in program history to pitch more than 500 innings. Her 495 career strikeouts are fifth-best in UGA softball history.

It stinks to see her career end without finishing this final chapter on the field, but Gray was a fantastic player. And anyone who took the trip out to South Milledge to see the Bulldogs when Gray was on the mound will tell you she was a joy to watch. Here’s to a speedy recovery for Gray. DGD.

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