The past and the present were on display Saturday at Georgia’s annual G-Day spring football extravaganza.
Those who looked closely enough even caught a glimpse of the Bulldogs’ future.
Watching from the stands Saturday as the Aaron Murray-led Black team beat Ben Jones’ Red squad 18-11 were several members of the Bulldogs’ most recent signing class – including two of the headliners, John Jenkins and Isaiah Crowell – that has many in and around the program excited about what the future holds.
"I think they’ll make a big impact because they’re very talented, they’re hungry, they want to come in and play," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I don’t think this group is coming in thinking, ‘I’m gonna wait my turn.’
"They’re gonna respect the veterans ahead of them and know they’ve gotta learn what to do and they know they’ve gotta win the job, but they want to come in and play," he continued.
"So with that kind of an attitude and that kind of a talent base, it can’t help but make everybody compete just a little bit harder."
Saturday’s events served as an entertaining showcase for Georgia’s football tradition, as a couple dozen former lettermen participated in a flag football game before G-Day and a couple dozen more – many of whom currently reside on NFL rosters – watched from the sidelines as the Bulldogs of today competed in their intrasquad scrimmage.
A handful of former Bulldogs quarterbacks even competed in a skills challenge at halftime – Matthew Stafford claimed the championship belt over contenders David Greene, D.J. Shockley and Eric Zeier – and it was that competition that provided the day’s lowlight for Richt.
He enjoyed pointing out after the game that none of the quarterbacks successfully landed a 25-yard pass in their target bucket during one segment of the skills contest.
"I wish those guys woulda thrown the ball a little bit better. That was the only disappointment I have," Richt joked. "It was a great day."
The G-Day game itself was your typical spring football game: A bit vanilla. Which is what it was supposed to be. Nobody suffered an injury and it provided just enough of a glimpse of the players we’ve heard about during spring practice to whet our appetites for the fall.
Fans and media alike enjoy seeing new players compete for the first time, whether it’s a redshirt like Ken Malcome, who scored a 12-yard touchdown in his first appearance between Sanford Stadium’s hedges, or a brand-new freshman like quarterback Christian LeMay, who went 3-for-6 for 38 yards in relief of Murray.
It was fun to watch big Kwame Geathers make some plays from his nose guard position and show why his coaches say he has made enormous progress since last fall.
It’s entertaining to see Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Richard Samuel lining up at linebacker and blasting opposing ballcarriers. And it was interesting to see Bruce Figgins be one of those ballcarriers, showing off how he’s adjusting to life at fullback after spending his first four years in Athens at tight end.
Saturday provided all of those things, but viewers had to experience the sensation that they were watching an incomplete product.
Because a rash of injuries prevented several starters from participating, the scrimmage didn’t even provide an accurate picture of where the Bulldogs are as of April 16. Then factor in the guys up in the stands – the members of Richt’s touted "Dream Team" signing class – and it’s obvious that the team we saw Saturday and the bunch that will take the field on Sept. 3 against Boise State are entirely different.
As Richt phrased it, there’s a new "pack of dogs coming" this summer, and they have every intention of stealing playing time from the players who suited up Saturday.
"They believe they’re gonna come in and play and they believe they’re gonna make a difference. You want guys to come in with a little bit of swagger and belief," Richt said. "But I’ll say this again, there’s not one guy that’s been promised any starting job. They’ve just (been) promised the opportunity that we want to at least find out if you’re ready to play right off the get-go."
That possibility seemed to light a fire under the Bulldogs who are already on campus. Richt’s staff complimented several veterans for their improved competitiveness this spring, showing they desperately want to hold onto their jobs.
Most of the freshmen haven’t even enrolled in college and they’re already affecting their future teammates’ work ethic. If you’re Mark Richt, that’s exactly what you want today as the Bulldogs move into the summer months.
Georgia hasn’t been known as the fieriest team in the last few years, so maybe a little motivation is just what the Bulldogs needed. If these soon-to-arrive freshmen can bring that back to Georgia’s roster, brighter days are most certainly ahead.
• David Ching is sports editor for the Banner-Herald. Phone: 706-208-2239 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.