Since moving to his new weblog, Seth Emerson has been bringing us first-rate coverage of the Georgia Bulldogs’ fall practice, and, so far, he has been providing encouraging news. In particular, we’re hearing good things about the highly-touted 2011 recruiting class, though not quite in the way we expected.
Isaiah Crowell garnered all the attention, but, while Richard Samuel is getting the first-team carries, Crowell is getting qualified praise. Running backs coach Bryan McClendon says of the freshman tailback: "I think it’s good, now is it SEC caliber right now, we’ll have to wait and see."
Ray Drew made a splash as a leader of the "Dream Team," but the battle for a starting position at outside linebacker between the Pastor of Disaster and returnee Cornelius Washington reportedly is even. As defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said of Drew: "He obviously is young. He's gotta learn our system and what to do."
John Jenkins was perhaps the crown jewel of the signing class, and Kwame Geathers identified "Big Bad John" as the first-string nose tackle, but defensive line coach Rodney Garner nipped that report in the bud, insisting: "Geathers is working first team nose and Jenkins is working second team. . . . Jenkins, he's continuing to work. Obviously it's his fourth practice in D-1, BCS, SEC, all that stuff. The SEC's the best conference for a reason. So it's definitely been a shock for him, versus what he had to do every day at Mississippi Gulf Coast. But I think he's a good kid, I think he's going to continue to improve. But the speed of our practice, the tempo of our practice, all our concepts and what's demanded of him, he's gotta continue to improve on that. But I think the kid will get it, I think the kid is talented. He's gotta keep coming."
Malcolm Mitchell is getting rave reviews at receiver, yet head coach Mark Richt is serving as the "bad cop" to the freshman, reminding Mitchell that he has to run harder if he wants to "be a player at Georgia."
Though he has a shot to make an impact on offense, Nick Marshall currently is being confined to the defense. The most Coach Richt will say is, "When everything settles down a little bit we could probably put in a little something."
In short, as celebrated a signing class as Athens has seen in a while is being handed one thing, and one thing only, on a silver platter: the opportunity to excel. Reading these reports, I am reminded of something my father used to tell me: "All men are created equal, but, after that, you’re on your own." Actually, God created each of these young men with a singular ability, but Coach Richt and his staff are making it clear to them that potential and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
A lack of accountability has been among the pervasive problems by which this program has been plagued in recent seasons. By the look of things, from the reserved reception the incoming freshmen have received from their coaches to the passage of almost ten months without a player arrest to the players being held out of practice due to injury doing push-ups and conditioning drills on the sidelines with strength coach Joe Tereshinski, that problem is being addressed.
It is much too early to say whether any of this will translate onto the field in the fall, or even, really, whether it represents anything more than coachspeak into which we are reading what is not really there, turning stray practice comments into Rorschach tests for our aspirations and anxieties as fans, but, for the first time in a great while, there seems to be more than a slender reed upon which to rest our hopes. It ain’t much, but, right now, for the moment, I’ll take it.