ATHENS – The reality of college football is only 11 players can be on the field at any one time and rarely do more than 50 play in a given game. So with an 85-scholarship maximum, there are always going to be a number of talented athletes not seeing any game action.
This is the time of year coaches start to focus on those players. With a month between the end of the regular season and the bowl game, teams are able to take a closer look at athletes that have been waiting in the wings for their opportunities to play. So for the Bulldogs the 15 practices since the SEC Championship game has been as much about preparing for the future as it has been preparing for the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl.
“We’ve got some talented guys on our campus and more that we’re recruiting,” Georgia coach Mark Richt. “We’re going to find out what they can do.”
The Bulldogs had a small signing class in 2012 and have a small roster overall. They ended up redshirting only four freshmen out of that group. But there was also a number of young players who got only limited playing time as that wait for their chances to make a bigger impact. Here are a few players to look out for in 2013:
CB SHELDON DAWSON
Georgia two-way player Malcolm Mitchell can’t contain his excitement when it comes to his expectations for Dawson, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound freshman cornerback from Memphis.
“Watch him,” Mitchell says. “I just see it in him. He’s going to be a great player. I don’t say that often. I see good players, but I see something really different in him. You’ll see it. Just watch him.”
Despite the Bulldogs already being set with an all-senior secondary, Dawson played in all 12 games. His work came mainly on special teams, but defensive coordinator Todd Grantham wasn’t afraid to put him in on defense to spell one of Georgia’s veterans.
“He’s right at 190 pounds right now,” Grantham said. “He’s got speed. His junior year in high school he averaged about 20 yards a carry running the ball. So he’s explosive. He’s a willing tackler. He’s just young and we’ve just got to get him reps. I look forward to seeing what he can do.”
Dawson feels like he gained a lot from his experienced teammates.
“I learned a lot this year and I got better, too,” he said. “I’ve been getting a lot of reps during these practices, so I feel like I’ve had a chance to show what I can do. But it’s just about getting better every day and letting everything else play itself out.”
WR BLAKE TIBBS
Blake Tibbs caught 123 passes for more than 1,100 yards and 23 touchdowns his final two seasons at Lithonia’s Martin Luther King High. But he did not play at all his first season with the Bulldogs, which Tibbs believes is a good thing.
“My technique has gotten way better from high school,” said the 6-foot-2, 185-pound wideout. “In high school, it was easier and you didn’t have to be so precise with everything you did. You could get away with a lot. In college, the DBs read every little motion you make. So you have to make sure to not to use any motions that would give away your route. I’m getting way better at my technique and route-running. I feel like I’ve gotten faster, a little stronger. So I’ve been progressing.”
The Bulldogs were loaded in the receiving corps this season. But they will be losing Tavarres King and Marlon Brown to graduation and opportunities should abound. Tibbs has been trying position himself to be somebody the Bulldogs can count on next season.
“I look to make an impression any time I get a chance, but Coach told us these bowl practices were going to be a big time for all the young guys,” Tibbs said. “They’re looking at the redshirts and the walkons and anybody who hasn’t gotten the reps this year in games to see what they can do and how they’ve progressed.”
Georgia’s Mitchell thinks Tibbs has what it takes. “He’s going to be a really good player. He’s just got to learn what he’s doing. But he’s going to make some plays.”
DL JONATHAN TAYLOR
With big John Jenkins (6-foot-3, 258) and Kwame Geathers (6-6, 355) manning the noseguard position this season, the Bulldogs were set along their interior defensive line. But Jenkins is a senior and Geathers may elect to make a jump to the NFL after his redshirt junior season.
But when talk turns to successor, all parties speak glowingly of Jonathan Taylor. The Bulldogs apparently have seen enough of the Jenkins County product during his redshirt season to know he can step in and get the job done.
“He’s a guy that can really help us next year,” Grantham said. “He’s big, physical, athletic. And he has a desire to be a good player. That’s why he works so hard in practice. Guys are noticing him down there. He’s a guy that (Georgia) fans around the country are going to hear about starting next year.”
At 6-foot-4, 320-pounds, Taylor is not as big as his predecessors. But his coaches and teammates use “strength” and “power” to describe his style of play.
“Being redshirted has been great for me,” Taylor said. “It gave me the opportunity to get bigger and faster and stronger. . . . I learned a lot. I take my playbook home every day so I can learn it. I’ve got to be ready so whenever the coaches need me I can just jump out there and help the boys out.”
Other players to look out for next season include linebacker James DeLoach, offensive lineman Greg Pyke and defensive back Josh Harvey-Clemons. Together with a signing class that could include as many as 35 players, their development will go a long way toward determining what kind of success the Bulldogs have next season.
“I don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like, but I do know that we’re going to be very athletic,” Richt said. “We’re going to be strong. I think physically we’re going to be able to hold up. It’s going to be a matter of how quickly they jell as a group and learn what to do.”