Georgia isn‚Äôt purposely trying to play a game of limbo.
Yet during another offseason of attrition, some fans were left to wonder how low the Bulldogs can go when it comes to scholarship football players.
Georgia has 69 players on its roster now recruited to the program on scholarship, down from 75 at the start of preseason camp a year ago and well below the 85 maximum allowed by the NCAA.
How did the Bulldogs get here?
Well, this offseason it came through players transferring or leaving the team (Jordan Love, Derrick Lott, Carlton Thomas, Quintavius Harrow), getting dismissed (Isaiah Crowell, Nick Marshall, Chris Sanders, Sanford Seay) or not qualifying academically (John Atkins, Leonard Floyd from a signing class of 19).
Despite the low numbers, Georgia coach Mark Richt is hardly in panic mode.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think it‚Äôs going to hurt us,‚Äù he said.
The Bulldogs, ranked No. 6 in both preseason polls, may lack in numbers, but they certainly don‚Äôt lack talent and are considered Southeastern Conference and national title contenders.
Richt said the Bulldogs ‚Äúhad the right amount of players to help us get through camp‚Äù ‚Äî 105, including walk-ons ‚Äî and with 121 now on the team after rosters were permitted to expand when school started, Richt sees enough depth and enough players to field scout teams.
‚ÄúI think our scout teams will be fine,‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúSometimes a really eager walk-on does better than a scholarship guy who‚Äôs bummed out he‚Äôs being redshirted.‚Äù
Georgia‚Äôs available scholarship players early in the season will also take a hit due to suspensions.
Cornerback Sanders Commings and outside linebacker Chase Vasser are suspended two games apiece, and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety Bacarri Rambo are also expected to face suspensions that haven‚Äôt been announced. Offensive tackle Kolton Houston was ruled ineligible by the NCAA for testing positive for a banned substance.
The lack of numbers in the secondary ‚Äî Marshall and Sanders were defensive backs ‚Äî prompted Georgia to move receiver Malcolm Mitchell to cornerback prior to spring practice.
‚ÄúPart of the reason that Malcolm Mitchell is playing corner is because of the attrition and the suspensions,‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúWe all know that. If we still had a couple of them guys maybe he wouldn‚Äôt have had to do that and that would have changed the dynamic of what our offense looked like. That‚Äôs the greatest example of where that has become a factor. But you know what? Maybe he‚Äôll make a game-winning pick. Maybe in the end it won‚Äôt be so bad.‚Äù
The flipside of the departure of scholarship players is that Richt has been able to award scholarships to deserving walk-ons. This year seven players were put on one-year scholarships or had scholarships renewed, including Merritt Hall, currently the starting fullback, and Connor Norman, a backup safety.
One area that could be impacted by player attrition is the special teams units that could have turned to younger scholarship players for roles on coverage units.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs one of those situations that I probably don‚Äôt feel the brunt of that as much because it‚Äôs probably a lot more people than I‚Äôm used to working with,‚Äù said Kirk Olivadotti, a former NFL assistant who oversees Georgia‚Äôs kickoff coverage. ‚ÄúWhen you look at it and you put the people up on the board, you just look for people that can make plays and don‚Äôt worry about, ‚ÄòOh well, he might get tired.‚Äô Then during the course of a game you have to have a plan if a guy just ran something back for a touchdown and went 92 yards you don‚Äôt want him out on the field. We ran into some of that with (Brandon) Boykin. You just have to a plan in place when you use those frontline guys to have somebody to go in and have them trained and ready to go. Would it be nice to have more? Sure. It would always be nice to have more options, but that‚Äôs not really the world we live in.‚Äù
By league rule, Georgia can only travel with 70 players for Southeastern Conference road games. Richt said usually at least five of those players are walk-ons that are special teamers.
‚ÄúIf we stay healthy throughout,‚Äù said Richt, whose team has avoided major injuries this preseason, ‚Äúwe‚Äôll be OK.‚Äù