Athens – Technically, most of the members of Georgia’s Dream Team didn’t partake in G-Day. But this isn’t to say the incoming freshmen didn’t have an effect on the intra-squad doings at Sanford Stadium.
Case study: Kwame Geathers was the best defender on the field. (He made four tackles, two for losses, and induced a fumble.) It’s believed that Geathers, a sophomore defensive tackle, will play behind John Jenkins, a JUCO transfer, this fall. That belief isn’t shared by Geathers.
“I’m ready for him to come in,” Geathers said. “It motivates me.”
Mark Richt didn’t just oversee the compilation of a stellar recruiting class; the coach is using the imminent arrival of his Dream Team as a goad for those who already were Bulldogs. “One thing we’ve done this spring is establish competition,” Richt said. “There’s been a winner and a loser in everything we’ve done.”
Then: “These guys know there’s a pack of dogs coming.”
The weirdest part of Georgia football the past two seasons was the failure to hold high its nickname. Georgia’s players stopped playing like Bulldogs. They sought to rely on talent, only to discover that a Mississippi State or even a Central Florida could trump talent with effort.
The dynamics of Georgia football changed. It’s Richt’s job to change them back, and he has made a bright start. Even on a benign April afternoon, there was a sense of purpose unseen on some recent autumn Saturdays. Everyone involved realizes the season ahead isn’t just another season: It’s the time these Bulldogs regain their proud pedigree or whimper off and allow swifter dogs to scurry past.
The Dream Team might well become the class that changes the course of this program. Said Richt: “They’ll make a big impact … I don’t think any of them is coming in here thinking, ‘I’m going to wait my turn.’ ”
That said: No group of freshmen is going to steamroll the SEC. For Georgia to win its division, the holdovers must play bigger and better than they’ve played. Nobody doubts that Aaron Murray and Orson Charles and Branden Smith and Washaun Ealey are major talents, but they haven’t yet yielded major results.
Difference is, there are new major talents — Isaiah Crowell, Ray Drew, Jay Rome, Damian Swann — about to arrive, and nothing focuses a football player’s mind like the threat of playing less (or not at all). Said Richt: “Every veteran is going to have to hold his job or win his job.”
Back to Geathers: Last season he played behind DeAngelo Tyson, who has since moved to end. Geathers always looked to be a prototypical 3-4 nose man — he’s listed as 6-foot-6, 350 pounds — but was never seen as the nose man of coordinator Todd Grantham’s dream. This spring Geathers shed 10 pounds and learned, in football argot, to lower his “pad level.” (Meaning: Get lower.) He was named the defensive MVP of spring practice.
Two months ago, Jenkins was thought to be the interior lineman who might do for Georgia as Terrence Cody and Nick Fairley — both JUCO transfers, by the way — did for programs based in Alabama. After G-Day, Grantham said: “We’re always going to play the best players. We’re always going to find a way to get the best players on the field.”
Meaning: Jenkins and Geathers could wind up playing together. Said Grantham, smiling: “Nothing says one of them couldn’t play end.”
Over time, we’ve witnessed the softening of Georgia football. Guys kept being given second and third chances because there was nobody nearly as gifted waiting to dislodge them. The Dream Team has changed that. Last year’s starter, even last week’s starter, won’t be guaranteed anything longer. There’s a greater depth of skill, and also of drive.
“These guys coming in are talented,” Richt said, “and there’s a bunch of them. They believe they’re good, and I want guys to come in with a swagger.”
Playing for Georgia under Richt had gotten too easy. It’s about to get tougher, and not because the nice-guy coach has turned into Nick Saban. With rookies looking to make a mark and veterans desperate to hold their ground, the Bulldogs are about to get hungry again.
By Mark Bradley