Spring wasn’t exactly in the air when spring football arrived for Georgia on Saturday.
There were snow flurries before the Bulldogs hit the practice field on a chilly morning and some more fell during the spirited session.
“That was interesting, spring ball,” coach Mark Richt said following the practice after first asking if a cup of hot chocolate was ready for him. “We had a really good day, I thought. Very high energy, but my guess is it had to do with trying to stay warm. … We skipped all the breaks and just kept going. Nobody wanted to stand still.”
New defensive line coach Chris Wilson quickly made his presence felt with his players.
“You go full speed!” Wilson shouted to junior college transfer nose guard Chris Mayes early in practice. “This isn’t a warm-up drill.”
Newcomers were already working in first- or-second-team roles on a defense that lost eight players that started in the Capital One Bowl.
Freshman Tray Matthews got some work in at safety during an early drill with the first team, along with sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons. On the second team were inside linebackers Reggie Carter and Ryne Rankin and cornerback Reggie Wilkerson, three of 13 early enrollees (receiver/tailback Tramel Terry, out this spring after ACL surgery, watched in a black ski cap.)
“Their brains are going to start spinning with all the information that they are trying to get,” Richt said.
Richt said he saw junior college transfer receiver Jonathon Rumph make a nice catch and Rankin make contact with a quarterback, which is frowned upon in the spring.
“I had to correct him on that,” Richt said.
Georgia was not only missing tailback Keith Marshall, who ran on the side after suffering a hamstring injury during a track meet, but former walk-on tailback Brandon Harton. Richt thought he had a muscle pull. Both Marshall and Harton are expected back after spring break.
Freshman J.J Green got work after Todd Gurley at tailback, but his main role is expected to be a slot receiver, Richt said.
The first day of practices brought out former Georgia players, including David Pollack, David Greene, Russ Tanner, Ben Jones and Christian Robinson.
“How do I look, Sherman?” junior receiver Malcolm Mitchell asked speed coach Sherman Armstrong after running a route.
“Fast,” Armstrong told him.
Some players on offense weren’t going fast enough for offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
“Huddle up! Huddle up!” Bobo told them. “Start it over! … Come on, come on! Through the whistle!”
The defense is nearly starting over with so many departures, including projected first-round picks Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree at linebacker and nose guards John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers.
Richt said he sees Mayes, John Taylor and John Atkins as sizable players at the position, but trimmer.
“We are definitely not as big up front, but we’re pretty quick and athletic,” Richt said. “It will be interesting to see how we’ll hold up against a smash-mouth team as the season goes on. We certainly have some guys that can really run.”
Sophomores James DeLoach and Sheldon Dawson worked at first-team outside linebacker and cornerback, respectively.
Also working first team in an early drill (without linemen) were outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, inside linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson and cornerback Damian Swann.
“I don’t see a huge difference between some No. 1s and some No. 2s,” Richt said. “I can see us doing things by committee; maybe a little bit more at certain positions, especially up front in that line, that front seven.”
Georgia will practice again on Tuesday afternoon.
Note: Richt said he was “thrilled to death” that receivers coach Tony Ball is staying with Georgia after interviewing with Tennessee for a position on its staff.
“I don’t even know if the players knew what was going on,” Richt said. “Tony’s a very private guy, but I’m glad he’s staying.”
Richt said that Ball could be a coordinator one day somewhere.
“Tony’s one of the best coaches I’ve been around,” Richt said. “He’s so meticulous in his work. He’s not taking anything for granted with these kids. He’s going to teach them the fundamentals of how to play that position from the very grass roots of it. Every little detail you can think of, he’s going to cover.”