ATHENS – They call it “The Chute.” It’s one of the drills Georgia running backs must negotiate early every practice and Bruce Figgins dreads it like a daily root canal.
The object is to zigzag as fast as possible through a series of metal gates while stepping over dummies and holding the football “high and tight.” This is not much of a challenge for 5-foot-7 tailback Carlton Thomas or even the 5-foot-11 Isaiah Crowell. But for the 6-foot-4, 274-pound Figgins, slipping under the metal bar maybe four feet from the ground can be problematic.
“I don’t know how high they are but ‘CT’ can almost stand straight up to them. They come up to his nose,” said Figgins, a senior fullback.”You can imagine how hard it is for me to get under them. Me and Richard [Samuel] have the toughest time. Our heads are always clinking it.”
Trouble is, if you “clink” the metal bar, you have to repeat the drill. So often running backs coach Bryan McClendon is yelling at Figgins, “run it again!”
“I’ll be looking at Coach Mac and he’s like, ‘Don’t be looking at me like that. Get under the chute!’,” Figgins said with a laugh.
It is a bit of an oddity to have a guy Figgins’ size in the backfield. But short on depth at the fullback position, the Bulldogs saw the versatile fifth-year senior as the answer to their problems.
“The tight end and the fullback position, a lot of their assignments actually carry over,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “He’s almost the same guy in a lot of formations we run. . . . Bruce is a big fullback who’s athletic enough to re-direct when he’s got to block a certain person. He fits into all the things we need there. He’s got to get used to blocking moving targets in more space and that takes time. But I’ve seen fullbacks that weigh 220 who can do a great job and guys that weight 280 and do it great. It’s just a matter of knowing what to do and wanting to do it bad enough and is he tough enough for that type of contact because it’s a high-contact position.”
A tight end his first four seasons, including a redshirt year, Figgins is sharing fullback duties with the 5-foot-10, 224-pound Zander Ogletree. Figgins entered camp as the No. 1 guy and, by all accounts, will line up first when the Bulldogs face off against No. 7 Boise State on Sept. 3.
Figgins was able to go through the spring at his new position and just now is starting to feel comfortable calling himself a fullback.
“I’m getting more comfortable with the position, more comfortable with the others guys now,” Figgins said. “I’m still learning and working on getting my pad level down, staying low and knee bend, that’s the biggest thing.”
It’s certainly a formidable sight when Figgins is running around the end leading the 6-2, 240-pound Samuel on a power sweep.
“I think people will be a little intimidated by it,” Figgins said. “That’s 500 pounds moving right there. And Richard’s not slow at all. I have to speed up just to get going ahead of him because he’ll run up your back if you don’t. I think we’ll be able to move some people out of the way.”
Fatigue setting in
Richt was not thrilled with the Bulldogs’ third practice, the first in which they went in shoulder pads and helmets.
“A little bit of fatigue is setting in, a little bit of weariness,” he said. “Even this morning when we had a lot of cloud cover and got a little bit of a break, without question fatigue affected the concentration level. The last 30 minutes of practice we dropped more balls than we did the first two and a half practices. We had more penalties. We couldn’t focus when we were tired, which was a big part of our demise a year ago. So hopefully we can learn to fight through it.”
Atlanta’s Swann among early standouts
Friday Richt lauded cornerback Branden Smith, who recorded an uncanny five interceptions during pass skeleton competition. That overshadowed what Richt said has been some exemplary work the last three days by freshman defensive back Damian Swann.
“I didn’t mention Swann yesterday but after I looked at the film I thought he made a couple of really outstanding plays yesterday and he made a couple of very nice plays again today,” Richt said. “He’s competing extremely well.”
Swann is a former AJC Super 11 player out of Atlanta’s Grady High School. Virtually every player asked about the defensive backfield so far has mentioned Swann as being a standout.
Other players singled out by Richt for their good work Saturday were wide receiver Tavarres King, linebacker Michael Gilliard, safety Shawn Williams, tight ends Orson Charles and Aron White and Samuel.
Special teams looking special
Georgia is expected to have one of the best overall special teams groups in the country with All-America candidates at punter (Drew Butler), place-kicker (Blair Walsh) and kick returner (Brandon Boykin). The Bulldogs also think they have one of the best snappers in the country in Ty Frix. Apparently that group looked the part as they went live kicking-team work for the first time on Saturday.
“They were very, very sharp,” Richt said. “The snap, the hold, the kick, I think we were 100 percent in every sort of way. Just about every kick split the uprights right down the middle. We had great times and great operation.”
Richt just kidding about Kellen Moore
Idaho newspapers and some national websites, including DeadSpin.com, have been making a big deal of what Richt said in an interview with an Atlanta radio station this week. Richt reportedly said UGA thought quarterback Kellen Moore had already left Boise State when they agreed to play the Broncos in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.
Actually, Richt had been telling that story as a joke on Bulldog Club tours all summer.
“I probably embellished the truth a little bit,” Richt said with a laugh Saturday. “[Athletic Director] Greg [McGarity] did say ‘I think that quarterback is gone’ when it first came up. But by the time we signed the contract, we knew he was coming back. Maybe it will go to his head a little bit and he’ll be overconfident.”
Defensive backs Brandon Boykin and Jakar Hamilton were out with hamstring injuries and Derek Owens was sidelined with an unspecified injury that Richt said was not serious. Outside linebacker Cornelius Washington (hamstring) and defensive end Derrick Lott (leg laceration) remained sidelined. . . . Tailback Ken “Boo” Malcome continues to practice but is limping noticeably from a groin injury that has plagued him since spring practice. . . . Big John Jenkins made it through the entire workout a second straight day.