When Georgia returned to the practice field after a couple of days off, it did so in a different way.
Students were invited to watch in Sanford Stadium late Tuesday afternoon, with “Beat Clemson” shirts and free pizza handed out.
“So practice is open today?” wide receiver Chris Conley tweeted earlier in the day.
A few hundred students watched from the stands in Sanford Stadium for the second half of the practice. Many of them didn’t stick around until the end of the 70 minutes that were open to the students and the media.
“Know these guys are in the heat working their tails off,” coach Mark Richt told those who remained afterwards on the P.A. system.
He also said he hopes the students would provide a similar home field advantage that Clemson had in Death Valley last year.
The big takeaways from the field were the number of newcomers running with the starting unit on defense: cornerback and junior college transfer Shattle Fenteng, walk-on safety Aaron Davis and Dominick Sanders, who was working at the star nickel back position.
“They’ve got a good talent base, their issue is experience,” Richt said. “Experience in the system and experience playing SEC football, which they have none. That’s the biggest issue. …They’ve got to get ready and the clock’s ticking. It’s not comfortable probably I would say now for them as we try to get them ready to play.”
Starting quarterback Hutson Mason singled out Sanders.
“He’s really stood out to me, maybe because he’s had both of my picks,” Mason said. “The coaches have a lot of high expectations for the freshmen because they’re counting on them.”
Outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter was also with the first group. Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd was in a non-contact jersey, but Richt said he’ll be fine.
Carter will play whether Floyd is healthy or not.
“Either way, Lorenzo is going to play,” Richt said. “He’s had a really good camp. He’s like a lot of freshman. He’ll do something outstanding and he’ll have a brain lock.”
Here’s how they lined up when we got out there:
No. 1 unit
24—Dominick Sanders—playing the star nickel back. On slot receiver
Comment: All-SEC inside linebacker Ramik Wilson was in a regular jersey but on the sideline on his knee, but he played with the starting unit later at his regular spot. That’s three newcomers in the secondary with Sanders notably playing at the star nickel back spot and not at safety. Freshman Carter is in this lineup as an outside linebacker. Floyd was in a non-contact jersey.
Defense No. 2 unit
Comment: Mauger’s name came up last week playing the star nickel back spot. J.J. Green, who made noise this spring at the star, was working second-team safety here along with walk-on Lucas Redd. Freshman Rico Johnson was at corner. Green later did play the star in a different lineup.
A 4-2-5 alignment later looked like this:
Jenkins, Thornton, Bailey, Carter
Herrera and Wilson (I think)
Secondary: Swann, Sanders, Fenteng, Moore and Dawson. Dawson was at safety.
LT 71 John Theus
LG- 54-Brandon Kublanow
Comment: Mark Beard moved into this lineup at left tackle later and Theus came out.
LT-79 Mark Beard
RG—55 Dyshon Sims
“I’d say we’re less settled at this moment than we have been in years past,” Richt said of the offensive line starters.”
The first-team skill guys later in practice: receivers Michael Bennett, Chris Conley and Blake Tibbs, tailback Todd Gurley, and H-back Quayvon Hicks.
Other various observations:
–Isaiah McKenzie was the first to take kickoff returns and No. 2 on punt returns behind Reggie Davis. Rico Johnson was the No. 2 kickoff returner.
There seems to be quite a potential for big plays on those kickoff returns with the quicks of McKenzie and the speed of Johnson. Davis made a nice catch on the run on a punt return.
It should be noted that McKenzie fielded his punts and kicks cleanly, something Richt said is crucial for the freshmen to play.
–Freshman receiver Shakenneth Williams turned his body to make a catch from Brice Ramsey over the middle.
There were some drops, including walk-on fullback Taylor Maxey.
–Faton Bauta threw a deep ball over outstretched hands of Blake Tibbs, who beat his man on the play.
–Kennar Johnson was called for pass interference on deep ball to Isaiah McKenzie.
–Rico Johnson had a pick six off Ramsey throw that might have been out of hands of a receiver.
–Jeb Blazevich made a nice grab over the middle as practice wound down.
It was basically a thud practice with no live tackling and the lights weren’t on as the field darkened as the afternoon turned into night.